The operator of the disaster-stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant plans to have foreigners work at the complex through a new visa program that started earlier this month to address Japan's acute labor shortage, company officials said Thursday.
Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. has told dozens of its subcontractors that foreigners coming to Japan under the recently adopted scheme can engage in decommissioning work at the plant.
Foreigners can also take up building cleaning roles and work in the provision of food services, the company said.
To prevent unsafe levels of radiation exposure, TEPCO 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 Daiichi 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 placed 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 scheme are eligible to work at the Fukushima plant.
To address exploitation fears under the new visa system, the ministry issued an ordinance requiring employers to pay wages equivalent to or higher than those of Japanese nationals.
Every person working at the plant, either Japanese or foreign, 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 a challenge.
In May last year, six people on the Japanese 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, 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 scheme is often criticized as a cover for companies to import cheap labor.
Contrasting with TEPCO's willingness to hire foreign workers, other major utility companies said they will not be following suit, apparently due to worries about quality control, risk of terrorism and information leaks.
Chubu Electric Power Co., which operates the Hamaoka nuclear plant in the central Japan prefecture of Shizuoka, said it has a sufficient workforce, among other companies that also said they have no plans to employ foreigners for nuclear-related work.
"We believe that from the viewpoint of quality control, operational safety and documentation are essential. A worker's degree of skill is important," said Electric Power Development Co., which is building the Oma nuclear power station in the northeastern prefecture of Aomori.
An official from a major power company said, "Even background checks on Japanese workers are difficult. Utility companies other than TEPCO are probably unable to assess the risk of accepting numerous foreign workers at nuclear plants."