Foreign workers who have been employed at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant are pictured in Fukushima Prefecture.
Despite ban, foreign trainees working at crippled Fukushima nuclear plant
May 1, 2018
FUKUSHIMA — At least four foreign technical intern trainees are working at the construction site on the premises of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant despite the policy of its operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), that bans the employment of such trainees there, the Mainichi has learned.
TEPCO has acknowledged to the Mainichi that the foreigners are indeed at work at the plant in Fukushima Prefecture. The plant has been shut down due to the core meltdown accidents at some of its nuclear reactors after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami devastated northeastern Japan.
A TEPCO official said that the practice of letting the trainees work does not match the intentions of the Technical Intern Training System. “We will demand our contractors to thoroughly check the residency status (of their foreign workers). We will do our own checks too,” the official said.
The Mainichi investigation has found that the four Vietnamese and other trainees are in their 20s or 30s and two of them just arrived in Japan last year and thus speak little Japanese. Two more foreign construction workers operate inside the grounds of the Fukushima plant.
The six workers, employed by a Tokyo-based subcontractor of a major construction company, are involved in laying the foundations of a new facility designed to burn rubble or trees with potential radioactive contamination. The work began in November last year.
According to TEPCO, the area the six workers are assigned to is outside the radiation controlled area where protection from radiation is necessary. Although they are inside the premises of the nuclear power plant, they did not receive training on how to protect themselves from radiation, and there is no need to control their radiation exposure, the company said.
The six workers are made to wear dosimeters but told the Mainichi that they were not aware of the amount of radiation they have received.
The Technical Intern Training System is designed to transfer technology to developing countries, but Vietnam does not have nuclear power plants where workers could be exposed to radiation. The Vietnamese government ended a plan to construct a nuclear power plant in 2016 due to a shortage of funds and out of consideration of public opposition following the nuclear disaster at the TEPCO plant in 2011.
TEPCO officials told a news conference in February 2017 that the company wanted to protect the working environment with its own control measures as the training system was designed for the trainees to acquire knowledge and experience in Japan and pass that on to people at home.
A TEPCO official told the Mainichi that the company does not accept technical intern trainees to work at locations even outside the radiation controlled areas, adding that the company intends to strengthen the contractual management of its contractors.
The president of the construction company that hires the six foreigners said that he was told by the main contractor to refrain from using foreign workers as much as possible. “But our industry cannot carry on without foreigners any longer,” he said.
According to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, some 55,000 foreigners were reported to have worked in the construction sector in 2017, more than four times the number recorded five years earlier. Out of the 2017 total, some 37,000 were technical intern trainees.
(Japanese original by Shunsuke Sekiya, Chiba Bureau)
Foreign workers vital for Japanese contractor in cleanup at Fukushima nuke plant
May 1, 2018
FUKUSHIMA — Foreign technical intern trainees have been employed in what is said to be a 40-year-long decommissioning operation underway at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) in the wake of devastating core meltdowns in 2011. While they are not supposed to be there under TEPCO policy, they are still considered indispensable by their employer, commissioned by TEPCO.
The homelands of the interns include Vietnam, a country that abandoned plans to import a nuclear reactor from Japan two years ago. As trainees, they are supposed to “transfer” their experiences in Japan to their compatriots back home. But in the case of Vietnam, there is no chance of using such know-how in the non-nuclear country. What is going through the minds of the trainees as they engage in this work?
“Hosha-kei, hosha-kei, hosha-kei,” one foreign worker repeated when the Mainichi Shimbun asked six workers from Vietnam and elsewhere about their job at the plant in February. It was not clear whether he meant radiation, radioactivity or a dosimeter.
“The job is easy and many Japanese workers are with us. I think (safety) is OK,” said another foreign worker who had the best command of the Japanese language in the group. The location they started working last fall is outside the radiation controlled areas and everyone there is in ordinary workers’ outfits.
The president of the Tokyo-based company that employs the six has nothing but praise for them. “People say they are so good at their work. I depend on them very much.” The six workers make up two-thirds of the company’s workforce, which also includes three Japanese nationals.
When the company was founded some 30 years ago it employed over 20 Japanese workers in their 20s, but now foreigners are vital for its operations. Says the president: “Japanese youngsters quit easily but foreigners stick with us because they borrow heavily to come to Japan and cannot go home at least for three years,” a requirement for technical intern trainees.
The six each borrowed between 1.2 million and 1.5 million yen to pay for their trip to Japan and other expenses. Four of them are paying back the debt as they work. They all share a one-story, three-room wooden apartment near the plant that includes a small dining room and a kitchen.
When one male foreign worker who barely spoke Japanese was asked why he came to Japan, he replied in Japanese, “Okane” (money).
The workers have not told their families they are working at the nuclear plant. “My family would worry and tell me to come home,” one man said in broken Japanese.
(Japanese original by Shunsuke Sekiya, Chiba Bureau)
TEPCO: Foreign trainees worked at Fukushima nuclear plant
May 2, 2018
Six people in the government’s foreign technical trainee program worked at the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant until the end of April despite Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s ban on such dispatches.
A TEPCO official on May 1 said the company had failed to sufficiently check the situation concerning workers at the nuclear plant.
The utility in February 2017 said it would not have foreign trainees work at the plant, which has continued to leak radiation since being struck by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.
The six workers were employed by a subcontractor of Tokyo-based Hazama Ando Corp.
They started working at the plant between October and December last year and were involved in construction of an incinerator on the premises to destroy contaminated protective clothing and other materials.
They were not required to wear protective gear against radiation because they worked outside the radiation-controlled area.
“We will ask prime contractors once more to check the status of workers (under their supervision),” the TEPCO official said.
The company said it also intends to check whether other foreign trainees have ended up working at the plant.
The purpose of the foreign trainee program is to pass down skills and expertise that interns can use to help their home countries. However, a number of cases have shown that companies are exploiting the program to obtain cheap labor, sometimes for dangerous tasks.
In March, it was revealed that a Vietnamese trainee was involved in decontamination work in Fukushima Prefecture but had not been told of the potential hazards.
A Justice Ministry official said decontamination work is an inappropriate job for foreign trainees.