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Japan needs thousands of foreign workers to decommission Fukushima plant, prompting backlash from anti-nuke campaigners and rights activists

Activists are not convinced working at the site is safe for anyone and they fear foreign workers will feel ‘pressured’ to ignore risks if jobs are at risk
Towns and villages around the plant are still out of bounds because radiation levels are dangerously high
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Workers move waste containing radiated soil, leaves and debris from the decontamination operation at a storage site in Naraha town.
26 Apr, 2019
Anti-nuclear campaigners have teamed up with human rights activists in Japan to condemn plans by the operator of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant to hire foreign workers to help decommission the facility.
Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) has announced it will take advantage of the government’s new working visa scheme, which was introduced on April 1 and permits thousands of foreign workers to come to Japan to meet soaring demand for labourers. The company has informed subcontractors overseas nationals will be eligible to work cleaning up the site and providing food services.
About 4,000 people work at the plant each day as experts attempt to decommission three reactors that melted down in the aftermath of the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and the huge tsunami it triggered. Towns and villages around the plant are still out of bounds because radiation levels are dangerously high.
TEPCO has stated foreign workers employed at the site must have Japanese language skills sufficient for them to understand instructions and the risks they face. Workers will also be required to carry dosimeters to monitor their exposure to radiation.
Activists are far from convinced working at the site is safe for anyone and they fear foreign workers will feel “pressured” to ignore the risks if their jobs are at risk.
“We are strongly opposed to the plan because we have already seen that workers at the plant are being exposed to high levels of radiation and there have been numerous breaches of labour standards regulations,” said Hajime Matsukubo, secretary general of the Tokyo-based Citizens’ Nuclear Information Centre. “Conditions for foreign workers at many companies across Japan are already bad but it will almost certainly be worse if they are required to work decontaminating a nuclear accident site.”
Companies are desperately short of labourers, in part because of the construction work connected to Tokyo hosting the 2020 Olympic Games, while TEPCO is further hampered because any worker who has been exposed to 50 millisieverts of radiation in a single year or 100 millisieverts over five years is not permitted to remain at the plant. Those limits mean the company must find labourers from a shrinking pool.
In February, the Tokyo branch of Human Rights Now submitted a statement to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva demanding action be taken to help and protect people with homes near the plant and workers at the site.
“It has been reported that vulnerable people have been illegally deceived by decontamination contractors into conducting decontamination work without their informed consent, threatening their lives, including asylum seekers under false promises and homeless people working below minimum wage,” the statement said. “Much clean-up depends on inexperienced subcontractors with little scrutiny as the government rushes decontamination for the Olympic Games.”
Cade Moseley, an official of the organisation, said there are “very clear, very definite concerns”.
“There is evidence that foreign workers in Japan have already felt under pressure to do work that is unsafe and where they do not fully understand the risks involved simply because they are worried they will lose their working visas if they refuse,” he said.
In an editorial published on Wednesday, the Mainichi newspaper also raised concerns about the use of semi-skilled foreign labourers at the site.
“There is a real risk of radiation exposure at the Daiichi plant and the terminology used on-site is highly technical, making for a difficult environment,” the paper said. “TEPCO and its partners must not treat the new foreign worker system as an employee pool that they can simply dip into.”
The paper pointed out that it may be difficult to accurately determine foreign employees’ radiation levels if they have been working in the nuclear industry before coming to Japan, while they may also confront problems in the event of an accident and they need to apply for workers’ accident compensation. TEPCO has played down the concerns.
“About 4,000 Japanese workers are already working on the decommissioning and clean-up work at Fukushima Dai-ichi,” the company said. “The amendment to the regulations on workers from overseas is a measure that creates more employment opportunities, including for foreign nationals with specific skills.
“In March, TEPCO explained the new regulations to its contractor companies involved in the clean-up work at Fukushima Dai-ichi and we have also confirmed that those companies will be in compliance with the regulations covering the safety of workers.”

May 1, 2019 - Posted by | fukushima 2019 | ,

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