Fukushima worker dies after falling into water storage tank

Fukushima worker dies after falling into water storage tank

TOKYO - A worker at Japan's destroyed Fukushima nuclear power plant died on Tuesday after falling inside a water storage tank, the latest in a spate of industrial accidents at the site of the March 2011 nuclear disaster, the world's worst since Chernobyl.

The death is the second in Fukushima in less than a year. Last week, labour inspectors warned the operator of the plant, Tokyo Electric Power Co., about the rise in accidents and ordered it take measures to deal with the problem.

An unnamed laborer in his 50s working for construction company Hazama Ando Corp. on Monday fell into a 10-metre-high (33 feet) water storage tank he had been inspecting. The tank was empty at the time and the worker died on Tuesday after being taken to a local hospital, said Tokyo Electric.

"We are deeply sorry for the death of the worker and express our deepest condolences to the family. We promise to implement measures to ensure that such tragedy does not occur again," Akira Ono, the head manager of the Fukushima plant, said in a statement. Hazama Ando had no immediate comment.

The number of accidents at the Fukushima plant, including heatstrokes, has almost doubled this fiscal year to 55. The increase came as Tokyo Electric ramped up cleanup efforts and doubled the number of workers at the site to nearly 7,000.

In March, a worker at the Fukushima plant died after being buried under gravel while digging a ditch.

Tokyo Electric has been widely criticised for its handling of the cleanup. Until last year it struggled to contain leaks of radioactive water from hastily built tanks at the site, and it has repeatedly promised to improve working conditions.

Most workers inside the plant are contract laborers hired by multiple layers of construction companies. A Reuters investigation in 2013 found widespread labour abuses, including workers who said their pay was skimmed and that there was little scrutiny of working conditions at the plant.

"It's not just the number of accidents that has been on the rise. It's the serious cases, including deaths and serious injuries that have risen so we asked Tokyo Electric to improve the situation," said Katsuyoshi Ito, a local labour inspector overlooking the Fukushima power plant.

Ito said inspectors were investigating the recent death.

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