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Vietnamese trainee paid US$19 a day to do decontamination work near crippled Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan

15 March, 2018,
Japan introduced the training programme for foreign workers in 1993 with the aim of transferring skills to developing countries. But the scheme has drawn criticism for giving Japanese companies a cover to import cheap labour
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A Vietnamese man who came to Japan under a foreign trainee programme was made to engage in radioactive decontamination work in Fukushima Prefecture without his knowledge, a foreign workers support group heard.
 
At an event organised by the Solidarity Network with Migrants Japan, the 24-year-old man, who declined to be named, said he would have “never come to Japan” if he had known he would be doing that work near where a nuclear disaster occurred in 2011.
 
The Vietnamese said a construction company in Morioka, Iwate Prefecture, hired him as a trainee, but did not tell him the work involved removing decontaminated material from around where the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl occurred at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in the days after a massive earthquake and tsunami struck northeastern Japan in March 2011.
 
Japan introduced the training programme for foreign workers in 1993 with the aim of transferring skills to developing countries. But the scheme, applicable to agriculture and manufacturing among other sectors, has drawn criticism at home and abroad for giving Japanese companies a cover to import cheap labour.
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According to the network, the Vietnamese man arrived in Japan in September 2015, and his contract only stated he would be engaging in work involving “construction machinery, dismantling, and civil engineering.”
 
Without any explanation about decontamination, he was told to remove the surface soil from roads and nearby residences in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, between October 2015 and March 2016.
 
He also took part in dismantling buildings in the town of Kawamata in the prefecture between September and December in 2016 before an evacuation order for the area was lifted.
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The man became suspicious about the work after seeing someone measuring radiation levels at the work sites, and he discovered the nature of the work after contacting the Zentoitsu Workers Union, an organisation helping foreign workers in Japan.
 
He also received only 2,000 yen (US$19) a day for decontamination work, less than a third of the 6,600 yen set as the standard by the Environment Ministry, in addition to his monthly salary of about 150,000 yen as a foreign trainee.
 
According to the union, this is the first known case of a foreign trainee’s involvement in decontamination work.
 
The Justice Ministry’s immigration bureau and the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare released statements on Wednesday, saying decontamination work does not fit the purpose of the trainee programme.
 
“If the content of training is significantly different from the plan, it can be illegal,” the immigration bureau said.
 
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March 16, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , , | Leave a comment

Third Court, Kyoto District Court, Rules Tepco and Government Liable to Pay Damages to Evacuees

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TEPCO, state told to pay 3/11 evacuees who left on their own
March 15, 2018
The legal team for evacuees of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster hold signs stating partial victory at the Kyoto District Court on March 15.
KYOTO–The district court here ordered the government and the operator of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant on March 15 to pay a combined 110 million yen ($1 million) to 110 evacuees who fled voluntarily after the 2011 nuclear disaster.
Presiding Judge Nobuyoshi Asami at the Kyoto District Court ruled that the government and plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. were liable on grounds that they failed to take adequate measures to protect the plant from the tsunami that inundated the facility after the Great East Japan Earthquake.
The court noted the government’s “long-term assessment” for possible earthquakes unleashing tsunami compiled in 2002. The report pointed to the possibility of a powerful earthquake and tsunami striking the plant.
All of the 174 plaintiffs from 57 families had evacuated to Kyoto Prefecture without an evacuation order except for one individual from Tomioka, Fukushima Prefecture.
Tomioka was within the 20-kilometer radius from the plant ordered to evacuate after the crisis unfolded on March 11, 2011, triggered by the magnitude-9.0 quake and tsunami.
Apart from Fukushima, the plaintiffs were from Miyagi, Ibaraki, Tochigi and Chiba prefectures.
The plaintiffs plan to appeal the court decision, as 64 were not awarded compensation.
The plaintiffs sought 846.6 million yen collectively in damages from the government and the utility.
The district court ruling marked the fifth in a series of similar lawsuits brought across the nation.
In all five cases, the respective courts acknowledged TEPCO’s responsibility to pay damages to the plaintiffs.
The Kyoto District Court’s decision was the third to acknowledge the government’s responsibility.
The key issues in the Kyoto case were if the towering tsunami that swamped the plant was foreseen, if the government had authority to force TEPCO to take countermeasures against such an event, and if the amount of compensation paid by TEPCO to voluntary evacuees based on the government’s guidelines was appropriate.
Most of the plaintiffs sought 5.5 million yen each in damages.
In the ruling, the district court determined that TEPCO should pay additional compensation on top of the amount set in the government guidelines to 109 plaintiffs who fled voluntarily despite not being subject to evacuation orders.
The criteria for extra payment are distance from the plant, radiation levels around homes, and family members who require medical attention due to the exposure to radiation.
Among the plaintiffs who were awarded additional compensation were those from Chiba Prefecture, just east of Tokyo and roughly 240 km from Fukushima Prefecture.
The court stated that the extra payment should be based on damage they suffered over two years after they began evacuating.
In the lawsuits filed at three other districts, some of the plaintiffs who evacuated voluntarily were awarded additional compensation, ranging from 10,000 yen to 730,000 yen per person.
 
Third court rules Tepco, govt liable over Fukushima disaster-media
TOKYO, March 15 (Reuters) –
* Kyoto district court on Thursday ruled that Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) and the Japanese government were liable for damages arising from the Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011, the Asahi newspaper said
* The ruling is the third court decision assigning liability to both Tepco and the government for the disaster that led to the evacuation of around 160,000 people
* A group of 174 claimants sought 850 million yen ($8 million)in damages arising from the disaster
* The court in western Japan did not accept that all plaintiffs should be awarded damages ($1 = 105.9900 yen) (Reporting by Aaron Sheldrick Editing by Shri Navaratnam)
 
Court orders Japan government to pay new Fukushima damages
TOKYO (AFP)-A Japanese court on Thursday ordered the government to pay one million dollars in new damages over the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, ruling it should have predicted and avoided the meltdown.
The Kyoto district court ordered the government and power plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) to pay 110 million yen in damages to 110 local residents who had to leave the Fukushima region, a court official and local media said.
Thursday’s verdict was the third time the government has been ruled liable for the meltdown in eastern Japan, the world’s most serious nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986.
In October, a court in Fukushima city ruled that both the government and TEPCO were responsible, following a similar ruling in March in the eastern city of Maebashi.
However, another court, in Chiba near Tokyo, ruled in September that only the operator was liable.
On Thursday, presiding judge Nobuyoshi Asami ordered that 110 plaintiffs who saw their lives ruined and their property destroyed by the disaster be awarded compensation, Jiji Press and other media reported.
Contacted by AFP, a court spokesman confirmed the reports, adding that the ruling denied damages to several dozen additional plaintiffs.
“That damages for 64 people were not recognised was unexpected and regrettable,” a lawyer for the plaintiffs said, adding that they would appeal, according to public broadcaster NHK.
Around 12,000 people who fled after the disaster due to radiation fears have filed various lawsuits against the government and TEPCO.
Cases have revolved around whether the government and TEPCO, both of whom are responsible for disaster prevention measures, could have foreseen the scale of the tsunami and subsequent meltdown.
Dozens of class-action lawsuits have been filed seeking compensation from the government.
In June, former TEPCO executives went on trial in the only criminal case in connection with the disaster.
The hearing is continuing.
Triggered by a 9.1-magnitude earthquake, the tsunami overwhelmed reactor cooling systems, sending three into meltdown and sending radiation over a large area.

March 16, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fukushima’s Diplomatic Fallout, 7 Years After the Nuclear Disaster

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March 14, 2018
Japan faces questions from abroad about its handling of the lingering aftereffects of the triple disaster.
 
March 11 marked the seventh anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami disaster that devastated Japan’s northeast coastal regions in 2011. While the resulting accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant continues to cause a great deal of disruption within the country, it also poses ongoing challenges for Japan’s diplomacy.
 
The Japanese government recently came under pressure in a United Nations human rights forum over the adequacy of its support for people who fled the disaster zone – and faced scrutiny about radiation levels in places where evacuees have returned. At the same time, Japanese diplomats have been waging a long battle to persuade other countries to ease import restrictions on food from the surrounding areas.
 
The Fukushima prefectural government says that the number of evacuees peaked at 164,865 in 2012, the year after the disaster, but that figure has now fallen to about 50,000 with decontamination work progressing and the lifting of evacuation orders in a number of towns.
 
Several countries took up the issue of the rights of Fukushima residents and evacuees as part of the UN’s universal periodic review of Japan. Austria, for example, urged the government to continue to provide housing support to so-called voluntary evacuees. These are people who had been living outside officially designated evacuation zones but fled because of their fears about radiation. Their housing aid ended about a year ago. Portugal, meanwhile, called on Japan to ensure women and men had equal participation in decision-making processes about their resettlement and Mexico urged the government to guarantee access to health services.
 
Germany’s representatives focused on radiation levels. Under Japanese government policies, evacuation orders can be lifted if the level of exposure for residents is estimated to be below 20 millisievert (mSv) per year. Germany called on the government to “respect the rights of persons living in the area of Fukushima, in particular of pregnant women and children, to the highest level of physical and mental health, notably by restoring the allowable dose of radiation to the 1 mSv/year limit, and by a continuing support to the evacuees and residents.” Incidentally, the International Commission on Radiological Protection recommends that the level for people in contaminated areas should be in the lower part of the 1 to 20 mSv/year range, with a long-term post-accident target of 1 mSv/year.
 
In a response dated March 1, the Japanese government said it accepted these four recommendations for follow-up, while arguing that it was providing necessary support to affected people under the relevant laws. The minister for reconstruction, Masayoshi Yoshino, subsequently told foreign journalists and diplomats that the government was effectively already committed to the long-term target advocated by Germany. “We have proceeded with decontamination efforts and as a long-term goal the government has indicated 1 mSv per annum,” he said during a briefing at the Foreign Press Center Japan on March 7.
 
The problem, according to environmental activists, is that the time-frame for achieving that goal is vague. Shaun Burnie, a nuclear specialist at Greenpeace Germany, said the raising of the issue in the UN process was important for evacuees as the recommendations could not simply be ignored. “The German government’s intervention on behalf of tens of thousands of Japanese citizens is absolutely welcome,” he said during a visit to Tokyo. Burnie and others plan to closely monitor how the recommendations are implemented.
 
Meanwhile, the Japanese government has been seeking to promote the safety of food products from Fukushima and other nearby regions, as a handful of places (including China and Taiwan) still impose import restrictions.
 
Tokyo last month enjoyed a significant win when a World Trade Organization dispute panel ruled that South Korea’s broad restrictions targeting eight prefectures were “unjustifiably discriminate.” Seoul is appealing the finding.
 
The Japanese government emphasizes the integrity of its food screening measures. In a recent report to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the government said 25,864 food samples were taken and analyzed in January 2018, of which 19 samples or 0.07 percent were found to be above the limits for cesium-134 and cesium-137.
 
Yoshino, the reconstruction minister, said vegetables, tea, and livestock products had not exceeded the standard limits over the past five years. No bags of rice produced in Fukushima prefecture had breached the limit since 2015, he added. Yoshino further described the “elimination of negative reputation” as the biggest challenge in promoting reconstruction of disaster-affected areas.
 
“Hoping that overseas consumers would also experience our delicious foods, I would be grateful if you would tell the people of your country about these initiatives for food safety that I have presented here today,” Yoshino said in a press briefing that was also attended by diplomats.
 

March 16, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , | Leave a comment

Japan: Foreign ‘interns’ doing radioactive decontamination work at Fukushima

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March 14, 2018
Solidarity Network with Migrants Japan expressed concern that foreign ‘interns’ working in Japan under the Technical Intern Training Programme (TITP) were being made to engage in dangerous radioactive decontamination work at locations close to the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant. ‘A’, a Vietnamese national, had worked for over two years at decontamination sites before, fearing for his health, he escaped from his company dormitory. ‘A’ states he was never told he was engaged in decontamination work, and never received any special training. He was paid just above the minimum wage (JPY 145,000, or approximately USD 1,400 per month), apparently less than what Japanese nationals doing the same work were receiving. In addition, the company he worked for paid him only one third of the JPY 6,000 (approximately USD 60) daily bonus for decontamination work provided by the government, in violation of government policy.
 
Though ostensibly a programme to transfer advanced skills to developing countries, TITP has been widely criticized as a means for Japanese companies to exploit cheap labour. Domestic and international human rights NGOs, UN human rights bodies, and even the US State Department has expressed concern that the programme results in human trafficking. ‘A’ paid USD 15,000 to brokers and other middle men in Vietnam before arriving in Japan on the TITP, ensuring that he was in debt bondage from the outset.
 

March 16, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , | Leave a comment

Coastal nuclear reactor resumes operations, joins 2 units nearby

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The No. 1 to No. 4 reactors (from top to bottom) at the Oi Nuclear Power Plant are seen from a Mainichi Shimbun helicopter, in Oi, Fukui Prefecture, on March 14, 2018.
March 14, 2018
FUKUI, Japan (Kyodo) — Kansai Electric Power Co. restarted Wednesday a reactor at its Oi plant on the Sea of Japan coast, located close to two other units already online, amid lingering safety concerns following the Fukushima disaster.
 
It is the first time that multiple nuclear reactors within the same vicinity have been in operation since the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, triggered by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
 
The No. 3 reactor at the Oi plant is a mere 14 kilometers from the No. 3 and 4 units at the Takahama plant, all in the central Japan prefecture of Fukui.
 
Local residents are worried about the lack of an effective evacuation plan in the event accidents hit both the Takahama and Oi complexes at the same time.
 
The No. 3 Oi unit is the sixth reactor to resume operations in Japan after clearing stricter safety regulations implemented in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.
 
The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, seeing nuclear power as an “important base-load power source,” is promoting the restart of nuclear reactors considered safe by regulators.
 
Under the current national energy policy, the government plans to generate between 20 and 22 percent of total electricity using nuclear power in fiscal 2030.
 
Kansai Electric aims to start commercial operations of the No. 3 Oi reactor in early April. The No. 4 reactor at the Oi plant is also expected to restart in May, having cleared the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s safety review along with the No. 3 unit in May 2017.
 

March 16, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

TEPCO’s priority is, and will be, to decommission crippled reactors

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March 14, 2018
Toyoshi Fuketa, chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), told a news conference last week that the Fukushima nuclear accident is far from over, and that it would be a mistake to think of it solely as something that occurred seven years ago.
 
On the surface, it appears as if a semblance of order has been restored at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, the site of one of the most catastrophic nuclear accidents in history. Except for in and around the crippled reactor buildings, workers can now go almost anywhere on the premises without protective clothing.
 
Measures have been set in place to cool debris from the reactor cores and spent nuclear fuel in storage pools.
 
The NRA has considerably downgraded the risk of the plant spewing massive amounts of radioactive substances again.
 
In reality, however, the road to reactor decommissioning is long and arduous.
 
“We are still in no state to see the peak of the mountain,” Fuketa said. “We don’t even know what sort of uphill slope awaits us.”
 
The government last year revised its timetable for reactor decommissioning. The basic target of “decommissioning in 30 to 40 years” has not changed, but the removal of spent fuel from the No. 1 and No. 2 reactor pools will not begin until fiscal 2023, three years later than initially projected.
 
With the state of the immediate surroundings of the reactor cores still being understood only vaguely, any decision on concrete steps for the removal of debris has been postponed by one year to fiscal 2019.
 
The volume of water containing radioactive substances, stored in 850 tanks, has reached 1 million tons, and it will only keep growing with the passage of time. The bloating costs of reactor decommissioning will translate into a heavier taxpayer burden. But trying to rush the job will raise the risk of exposing workers to radiation and inviting accidents.
 
Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the operator of the Fukushima No. 1 plant, started last summer to publicly announce troubles encountered by cleanup crews as “deviations from the norm.”
 
Such issues include injuries or acute illnesses suffered by workers, vehicular collisions while multiple operations are being simultaneously run, and the deterioration of machinery used in emergencies. While most of these cases do not constitute legal violations, they are being reported almost daily.
 
Ensuring the safety of workers is TEPCO’s top priority. The utility must also pay close attention to other factors while proceeding steadily with reactor decommissioning, such as reducing the risks of environmental pollution. It is also crucial for the company to explain the situation to local residents as well as the general public and heed their voices.
 
However, some within the NRA, as well as the Nuclear Reform Monitoring Committee, a group of domestic and overseas experts who advise TEPCO’s board of directors, have frequently expressed concern that TEPCO may start prioritizing its corporate profitability.
 
For TEPCO, which has been bailed out effectively under government control, decommissioning the reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 plant should be its foremost task. As the very party that allowed the nuclear disaster to occur, it is obviously its responsibility to invest sufficient capital and manpower in this undertaking.
 
In 2013, when Tokyo was bidding for the 2020 Olympics, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared in his speech that the issue of contaminated water at the Fukushima plant was “under control.”
 
But such optimism was hardly warranted, given the difficulty that became clear in disposing of the radioactive water.
 
This must be firmly borne in mind by TEPCO, as well as the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which oversees the utility, and the NRA.
 

March 16, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , | Leave a comment

Decontamination work begins in Okuma, Fukushima

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Decontamination work begins in Fukushima town
March 14, 2018
Media have been allowed to watch decontamination work at a post-disaster reconstruction hub inside the no-entry zone set up after the 2011 nuclear accident in Fukushima Prefecture, northeastern Japan.
 
Reporters were invited on Wednesday to a kindergarten in the town of Okuma, about 7 kilometers from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
 
Work began there last Friday to remove radioactive substances from the kindergarten’s 7,000-square-meter playground. Workers will weed grass as tall as an adult, and replace contaminated topsoil with new earth.
 
The central government has recognized an 860-hectare zone around the railway station in Okuma as a reconstruction hub based on the local administration’s plan.
 
Utilities and other infrastructure will be rebuilt and some houses will be demolished at the request of residents to provide them with a livable environment.
 
Okuma was designated as an area where residents could not return due to high radiation levels. Authorities plan to lift the evacuation order in about 4 years.
 
Okuma is the second municipality in the prefecture after the town of Futaba where decontamination work has begun at reconstruction hubs.
 
Similar projects are set to kick off in other municipalities in the fiscal year starting in April.

March 16, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , | Leave a comment

Fukushima Flounder Promotion Event Cancelled in Thailand Due to Consumers Concerns

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March 12, 2018
Event promoting Fukushima fish cancelled
An event in Thailand promoting flounder from Fukushima has been cancelled amid concerns from consumers.
The event was being held at a Japanese restaurant and scheduled to run through the end of the month. The export of flounder caught in waters off Fukushima was resumed on March 1st for the first time since the 2011 nuclear accident.
The Fukushima prefectural government says a consumer group raised concerns about the safety of the fish. The group said the fish were caught in contaminated waters and dangerous to eat.
The group also reportedly demanded the Thai government announce the name of a local restaurant that sold the fish.
Consumers took to social media to voice their concerns.
Organizers say they cancelled the event to avoid confusion.
Nearly 130 kilograms of flounder have been exported from Fukushima to Thailand but close to half remains untouched. Exports are essentially halted.
A Fukushima government official said the prefecture will continue to promote the safety of the fish in hopes of once again resuming the exports.
 
 
Fukushima governor rues cancellation
Fukushima Governor Masao Uchibori has called the cancellation “regrettable.”
He noted that Thai health authorities have said the flounder was rigorously screened and deemed safe. He also said the fish was favorably received at a local Japanese restaurant.
The head of a fisheries association in Fukushima said news of the cancellation came just as he felt pleased about the resumption of exports.
He said a robust screening system has been in place to ensure that the fish are safe.
He added that Thai consumers and environmental activists should be invited to Fukushima to witness safety procedures.
Meanwhile, a representative of a Thai environmental group told NHK that the names of local stores selling marine products from Fukushima should be made public. The group is critical of the Thai government’s handling of the issue.
The official said it is known that Japan has strict safety standards, but that trusting them is another matter. https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/news/20180313_09/

March 16, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , , | Leave a comment