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The world is looking anxiously on as the Japanese attempt to prevent the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant from melting down. The effects will be far-reaching for many, but the workers themselves are in the most dire situation, risking extreme radiation poisoning as they attempt to control the reactors. Their tragic situation makes one wonder about the status of workers’ compensation and labor laws in extreme circumstances.

It seems that their dangerous job is made all the more risky by a lack of legal resources and oversight. As Washington D.C.-based investigative journalist Tim Shorrock posted on his blog, the majority of the workers exposed to radiation in nuclear accidents over the years have been subcontracted workers, hired for “brief periods to do the most dangerous work in the nuclear industry,” not just working for the power plant but for the nuclear fuel facilities and waste burial sites. These workers are called “genpatsu gypsies” because they often move from plant to plant throughout the year, and in reports as far back as 1992, they made up nearly 89 percent of the employees in the industry and receive “more than 90 percent of all radiation exposure.”

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