National

Tepco says foreign workers on new visas can work at crisis-hit Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant

Kyodo

The operator of the disaster-stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant plans to allow foreign nationals to work at the complex through a new visa program that started earlier this month, company officials said Thursday.

Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. has told dozens of its subcontractors that foreign workers coming under the recently adopted program, which is intended to address Japan’s acute labor shortage, may engage in the work of decommissioning the plant.

They may also take up work cleaning buildings and providing food services, the company said.

To prevent unsafe levels of radiation exposure, Tepco said foreign workers must have Japanese-language abilities that allow them to accurately understand the risks and follow procedures and instructions communicated to them in Japanese.

In controlled radiation areas, workers need to carry dosimeters. On average, approximately 4,000 people work for Tepco subcontractors at the Fukushima No. 1 plant each day.

Tepco is also considering accepting workers from overseas at its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in Niigata Prefecture, the officials said. The company aims to reboot reactors at the complex, which have been suspended following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster and have been undergoing renovations to improve safety.

“The decision to hire foreign workers under the new visa system is up to our subcontractors and we have not set a target figure” for such employees, said a Tepco official. “We will manage the situation as a company that places orders” for laborers.

The new system was implemented on April 1 to bring in mainly blue-collar foreign workers to 14 labor-hungry sectors including construction, farming and nursing care. Tepco has confirmed with the Justice Ministry that holders of visas under the latest plan are eligible to work at the Fukushima plant.

To address exploitation fears under the new visa system, the Justice Ministry issued an ordinance requiring employers to pay wages equivalent to or higher than those of Japanese nationals.

Every person working at the plant has a limit on how much radiation they may be exposed to, but due to the complex nature of secondary employment arrangements, oversight is proving to be a challenge.

In May last year, six people in the government’s foreign trainee program were found to have engaged in construction work at the Fukushima plant despite Tepco’s ban on program participants working at the complex. The six were hired by one of the utility’s subcontractors.

The Justice Ministry does not allow foreign trainees working under the program, which is aimed at transferring skills to developing countries, to engage in decommissioning work as the skills acquired would have no application in their home country. The internship program is often criticized as a cover for companies to import cheap labor.