Using underpaid Foreign Trainees for Fukushima’s Decontamination

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3 Vietnamese trainees newly found to have taken part in Fukushima cleanup work
Three more Vietnamese technical intern trainees were sent by a contractor to carry out decontamination work at the Fukushima nuclear disaster area, it was learned from sources including a support organization.
The number of foreign trainees known to have taken part in the decontamination work now totals four. The Organization for Technical Intern Training under the jurisdictions of the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare is investigating the facts behind the incidents and there is a possibility that the number will rise.
According to the Zentouitsu Workers Union based in Tokyo, the trainees in the latest incident are all males and aged 24 to 34. They came to Japan in July 2015 and joined the contractor in the city of Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, to make molds and reinforce metal bars. Instead, the trio worked on decontaminating roads and other areas in Koriyama and the city of Motomiya, Fukushima Prefecture, from April 2016 to March 2018.
A supervisory organization for the contractor reportedly explained to the union that Koriyama and Motomiya were areas free of radiation exposure.
(Japanese original by Naoki Sugi, Maebashi Bureau)
 
More Vietnamese trainees made to conduct Fukushima decontamination work, union says
Three more Vietnamese men in a foreign trainee program in Japan were made to take part in radioactive decontamination work in Fukushima Prefecture, which was devastated by the March 2011 nuclear crisis, their supporters said Wednesday.
The Justice Ministry’s Immigration Bureau is conducting a probe, believing more foreigners may have been made to engage in inappropriate work under the Technical Intern Training Program.
Japan introduced the program 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 importing cheap labor.
According to the Zentouitsu Workers Union, which supports foreign trainees, the three Vietnamese men came to Japan in July 2015 and conducted radiation cleanup work in Fukushima Prefecture between 2016 and 2018 as trainees of a construction company in the city of Koriyama in the prefecture.
Their contracts only stated that they would be engaging in form-work installation and reinforcing steel placements, and the company did not give them a detailed explanation of the decontamination work beforehand.
In March, a Vietnamese trainee hired by a construction firm in Morioka, Iwate Prefecture, said at a news conference in Tokyo that he had been misled into conducting decontamination work in Fukushima Prefecture.
The Justice Ministry and the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare have released statements saying that decontamination work does not fit the purpose of the trainee program.
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Contractor skimmed pay of Vietnamese trainees doing Fukushima cleanup work

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TOKYO — A construction firm siphoned off the danger allowances of Vietnamese technical trainees it sent to do cleanup work in the Fukushima nuclear disaster area, the Environment Ministry announced on April 6.
 
The firm, which assigned the technical trainees to radioactive decontamination and home demolition work, used false wage records in explaining that the allowances had been paid. The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare is investigating the firm for suspected violations of the Labor Standards Act.
 
The foreign trainee system is intended to bring foreign workers from developing countries to Japan to learn technical skills.
 
The Environment Ministry has confirmed that the construction firm skimmed off the trainees’ danger allowances in 2016 and 2017, when they worked at a demolition site in Kawamata, Fukushima Prefecture.
 
One of the trainees spoke about the pay-skimming at a news conference on March 14 this year. However, the construction firm had given Environment Ministry investigators the falsified wage records, and Environment Minister Masaharu Nakagawa stated on March 27 that the danger allowances had been paid.
 

Govt. bans decontamination work by foreign interns

 

March 16, 2018
The Japanese government has decided to ban companies from using foreign trainees to carry out decontamination work in areas affected by the 2011 accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.
 
The decision comes after a Vietnamese man complained that he was asked to remove contaminated soil in Fukushima Prefecture. He told a news conference that he would never have come to Japan if he had known that he would be doing this kind of work. He also expressed concern about the possible impact on his health.
 
The man came to Japan under a government-backed technical internship program that allows foreigners to acquire skills and knowhow.
 
The ministries in charge of the program say that decontamination is not suitable work for interns.
 
They say they will make it mandatory for companies to submit a pledge that trainees will not be asked to do this kind of task.
 
A group that supports foreign interns says there have been similar cases.
 
The ministries will warn companies if other cases are discovered and may consider revoking their permission to hire foreign interns.
 

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.

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Seven years on, no end in sight for Fukushima’s long recovery

March 11, 2018
Japan faces myriad challenges to decommissioning and decontamination
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Removing nuclear fuel from the Fukushima Daiichi power plant will take 30 to 40 years, ‘Tepco says’.
 
TOKYO — After helping shape nuclear policy in post-Fukushima Japan, Shunichi Tanaka, a former chief of the country’s nuclear watchdog, took on another tough assignment — moving to a village still struggling from the 2011 nuclear disaster to help with its recovery effort.
 
In February, Tanaka, who chaired the Nuclear Regulation Authority until last September, became a reconstruction adviser in the tiny village of Iitate, Fukushima Prefecture. Like many in surrounding localities, Iitate residents were ordered to evacuate after a powerful earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, led to meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings’ Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. To date, only around 10% of residents have returned.
 
“It won’t be easy to make life like it was before the disaster,” Tanaka said. Nonetheless he will help the village move forward by offering advice on nuclear decontamination and the ongoing dangers of radiation. He also acts as a go-between for the village and the national government.
 
“I’m a jack of all trades,” he says.
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Shunichi Tanaka, former chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority.
In his former role at the NRA, Tanaka spearheaded an overhaul of Japan’s nuclear regulatory scheme, setting tough new standards for nuclear power operations intended to prevent another Fukushima-like accident. To date, 12 reactors have cleared the new standards. And yet the public remains largely distrustful of nuclear power — a problem Tanaka believes he can address by building up trust in the areas directly affected by the Fukushima disaster.
 
Challenges in that region, however, remain immense, none more so than decommissioning the damaged power plant. This involves the unprecedented feat of removing and safely storing the plant’s nuclear fuel, part of which has melted and escaped from the reactors it originally powered.
 
Back in September, Tepco and the national government reaffirmed their previous timeline for the cleanup, estimating the decommissioning process would take 30 to 40 years to complete. But the herculean nature of this task is becoming increasingly apparent. Nuclear fuel is too radioactive for humans to approach even when wearing protective gear, and must be handled by remotely controlled robots. But precision machinery is sensitive to radiation, and developing technology able to withstand conditions at the Fukushima site has proved intensely challenging.
 
“I truly cannot say” whether decommissioning can be wrapped up on a 30- to 40-year timeline, and “it is important to be honest,” said Hajimu Yamana, head of the government-backed Nuclear Damage Compensation and Decommissioning Facilitation Corporation.
 
The process is also extremely costly. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry in 2016 pegged costs such as decommissioning and victims’ compensation related to the disaster at 21.5 trillion yen ($202 billion at current rates), nearly double its initial estimate of 11 trillion yen.
 
Work to remove and store melted fuel, set to begin as soon as 2021, and assorted other decontamination tasks could pile on additional expenses, depending on how they progress. The Japan Center for Economic Research believes the real cost could be as high as 70 trillion yen. Much of this would be borne by taxpayers, who require a convincing explanation of why costs are so high.
 
Decontaminating the soil poses another thorny problem. Roughly 640,000 cu. meters of contaminated soil, divided into 1-cu.-meter packages, has been delivered to an interim government storage facility between October and January. Yet up to 22 million cu. meters of contaminated earth remains to be treated in Fukushima Prefecture alone, a far larger amount than can be adequately handled at the current pace of work.
 
The government has not even locked down the roughly 1,600 hectares of land needed to complete the facility, which is itself only a temporary solution. Tokyo has pledged that Fukushima Prefecture will not be the final resting place for any of this soil, and looks to move it to a more permanent home elsewhere within 30 years. But even initial steps toward choosing such a site remain to be taken.
 
“It would be difficult and unrealistic to ask other prefectures to shoulder the burden,” Tanaka said. He has proposed decontaminating the soil and using it to fill in wetlands, turning them into farmland or meadowland that would provide a living for residents returning to evacuated areas. An influx of foreign engineers working on decommissioning the Fukushima plant could also give rise to new industry. But whatever plans emerge, the highest and most important hurdle could be simply getting started.
 

Fukushima town of Namie to launch radioactive decontamination work around May

February 16, 2018
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Around May, decontamination work will begin in the town of Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, to make some of its most radioactive areas habitable again, the government said.
Namie was hit hard by the Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent tsunami and nuclear disaster in 2011, and entry is effectively prohibited for about 80 percent of it.
By March 2023, the government hopes to lift the evacuation order for three parts consisting of 660 hectares. The areas scheduled for decontamination cover about 3.7 percent of the town.
To rebuild areas tainted by the triple core meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power, the government approved a plan submitted by Namie on Dec. 22.
Similar efforts got underway in neighboring Futaba in December and more are scheduled to start in the town of Okuma in March. The two towns cohost the crippled plant. The first round in Namie will cover about 30 hectares.
On March 11, 2011, tsunami inundated the six-reactor plant and knocked out its power supply. This crippled the reactors’ cooling systems, leading to core meltdowns in reactors 1 to 3. It is the world’s worst nuclear catastrophe since Chernobyl in 1986.

Town of Futaba kicks off radiation cleanup with eye on 2022 revival

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Decontamination work begins Monday in the town of Futaba, Fukushima Prefecture, to make it habitable again by spring 2022 under a government-led reconstruction project.
FUKUSHIMA – Cleanup work kicked off Monday to make radiation-tainted Futaba, one of the towns hosting the meltdown-hit Fukushima No. 1 power plant, habitable again by around spring 2022 under a government-led recovery project.
Cleanup and demolition crews are trying to decontaminate the town, which was tainted with fallout from the plant’s triple core meltdown after the March 2011 mega-quake and tsunami. The plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc., is shouldering the cost.
The work at Futaba marks the beginning of a series of government-led projects to make areas designated as special reconstruction zones livable again, with an emphasis on new infrastructure.
About 96 percent of Futaba has been designated as “difficult to return to” zone, and an evacuation advisory is still in place for the entire town, which hosts the stricken power plant with neighboring Okuma.
The cleanup will be concentrated in the special reconstruction zone, which covers 555 hectares accounting for 11 percent of Futaba.
“The reconstruction efforts will help motivate residents to return to their homes,” Futaba Mayor Shiro Izawa told officials involved in the project.
“We want you to carry out the work while thinking about the feelings of the citizens awaiting the day they can return,” he said.
Overseen by the Environment Ministry, the first steps will involve removing the top layer of soil in the area near Futaba Station, trimming grass along the streets, and dismantling nearly 60 houses and public facilities.
Along with Futaba, seven municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture have been designated as zones that are difficult to return to.
The government is aiming to lift the evacuation advisory near Futaba station by the end of March 2020, when the Joban Line plans to fully resume operation.
Some evacuees from Futaba had mixed emotions about the start of the work.
A 69-year-old woman residing in a temporary shelter in Iwaki said that her house is in the special reconstruction zone but that she had given up hope of returning because she evacuated over six years ago.
“If this was two or three years after the disaster, I might have a choice to return. But my house became run-down and I got old. Realistically speaking, I don’t think I can live there now,” she said.
On the other hand, Masamichi Matsumoto, who also fled to Iwaki, welcomed the project, saying, “I’m glad that a step has been taken to rebuild the town for the future.”
He said it is unlikely many citizens will return, partly because a nearby facility will be storing contaminated soil collected from the cleanup work.
“But I hope that Futaba will become a town where people can visit some day,” Matsumoto, 54, added.