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Nuclear Janitors Risk Health and Safety
"The statistics illustrate that as the industry grows older it relies more and more on the willingness of temporary and sometimes desperate workers to risk their health to keep ailing power plants on line...
...Another serious problem is the increasing number of jumpers working at several plants in one year. This increases the worker's total exposure to radiation and the possibility of birth defects, cancer, and leukemia. NRC records indicate that some jumpers worked at as many as five nuclear plants during one calendar year. At the present time the responsibility for reporting past radiation exposure rests solely with the jumpers."
A lot has been written post-Fukushima about Japan's "disposable workers." This is a terrible thing, where men desperate for work take on the worst, most dangerous nuclear jobs; virtually insuring a dangerous level of radiation exposure. The truth is, this has been going on as long as the nuclear industry. Warnings have been issued, suggestions have been made, but the industry couldn't function without them. So, nothing has been done. Laws exist to protect them, but they are not enforced. Records could be kept, but they are not. In a tragic version of "don't ask, don't tell"- few questions are raised by the utilities, and the workers, in dire need of money, have no incentive to come forward. If they did, they would probably bear the brunt of any consequences.
To illustrate just how long this has been a serious issue, here is an excellent piece from 1984. It is still, sadly, quite topical. Almost everything discussed in it is still happening. And it still inspires horror, outrage, and great sadness. Even worse, despite the intervening years, there is almost nothing (accessible) out there that has been written about it. Even this was difficult to find.
They are known as glow-boys or jumpers in the nuclear industry. Since the early 1970s, thousands of temporary workers have been recruited to perform a number of high-risk maintenance and repair tasks, such as detecting leaks, welding and refueling, and waste cleanup and removal. But while federal standards permit jumpers to absorb about ten times the amount of radiation that the general public is exposed to, concerned scientists and industry critics are questioning whether these levels are necessary or socially justifiable.
The jumpers are hired by contractors like Atlantic Nuclear Services of Norfolk, Virginia (an estimated 23,000 have passed through their door since 1974) or directly by reactor manufacturers like Babcock and Wilcox or Westinghouse, which contract repair and maintenance services to more than half of the nation's utilities. Estimates of the number of jumpers this year are as high as 40,000.
"We've had people from a variety of backgrounds, from college professors to bartenders, work for us," says Melvin Miller, a spokesman for Nuclear Services. "They do it because it pays well. Maybe they make a jump and then have some extra money for a vacation that year, or maybe it helps them through rough times in between jobs."
Other jumpers are recruited from the ranks of the construction unions who build the plants when construction work is slow. But the majority are typically people with few job skills and little or no prospects for jobs elsewhere.
Two more recent posts with references to this issue: