National

Tepco cautioned about employing foreign workers at Fukushima nuclear plant under new visa system

Kyodo

The government on Tuesday urged the operator of the disaster-stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant to carefully examine the firm’s plan to have non-Japanese work at the complex under a new visa program, citing difficulties in managing long-term health risks.

“It is necessary to give very deliberate consideration” to whether non-Japanese who arrive under the new visa program should engage in decommissioning work at the plant, labor minister Takumi Nemoto told reporters.

Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. said last month it plans to accept foreign workers at the facility, which was hit by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami disasters in 2011.

The minister expressed concern about the ability to conduct long-term health management for foreign workers after they return to their home countries upon expiration of their visas.

“It is necessary to establish a safety and health management procedure that is equivalent or more advanced than that for Japanese workers,” Nemoto said.

The new visa program, launched this April, is intended to bring in mainly blue-collar foreign workers to 14 labor-hungry sectors including construction, farming and nursing care in aging Japan. Tepco has confirmed with the Justice Ministry that holders of visas under the program are eligible to work at the Fukushima plant.

In a set of requests to Tepco, the government has urged the company to take measures to manage the amount of radiation to which workers engaged in decommissioning tasks are exposed.

It also requested that the utility study whether it can use native languages for workers who lack general proficiency in the Japanese language and familiarity with the country’s customs during safety training and when issuing safety warnings at workplaces.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has demanded Tepco report back to the ministry on the outcome of its deliberations, although it did not set a deadline.

Tepco said it has told dozens of its subcontractors that non-Japanese arriving under the new visa program are able to not only engage in decommissioning work at the plant but also work in building cleaning roles and the provision of food services.

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

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

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