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Foreigners hired at Fukushima nuke plant under suspected illegal contracts

Dressed in protective suits, foreign workers who were engaged in the construction of tanks to hold radioactively contaminated water at the tsunami-hit Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant pose in this photo taken sometime around May 2014. (Photo courtesy of an individual involved in the work; image partially modified)

About seven foreign nationals worked at the disaster-stricken Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant in 2014 under suspected illegal contracts, sources close to the matter have revealed to the Mainichi Shimbun.

    It was reported that the workers -- mostly Brazilians -- did not receive sufficient guidance on radiation protection as ordered by law before they engaged in work to contain radioactive water at the plant. It is the first time that a post-disaster labor issue involving foreign workers at the plant has come to light.

    At the time, plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) was pressed to deal with contaminated water emanating from the 2011 nuclear disaster and put in an order for the construction of welded storage tanks with a major contractor. This work was sub-subcontracted to a Tokyo-based welding company. The welding company's president explained that it "couldn't fill the spots with a sufficient number of Japanese workers," so about seven foreign welders were hastily assembled for the job.

    Roney Tsuyoshi Ishikawa, 43, a Japanese-Brazilian welder, and other sources told the Mainichi that Ishikawa received the order to build the tanks from the welding firm for 2 million yen per tank. He made contracts with individual foreign nationals and placed welding orders. Ishikawa left the construction site before the job was finished, and the welding company and other parties thereafter gave instructions to the remaining workers.

    The Employment Security Act and other regulations ban "disguised contracts" in which workers are given work without official employment or are made to work under the instruction of parties other than those who place the original orders, thereby obscuring the party responsible for safety management.

    The president of the welding company told the Mainichi, "As non-regular employees were prohibited from entering the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, I reported to the (first-tier) contractor that they (the foreign workers) were regular employees. It is more efficient to get the work done under contracts."

    According to Ishikawa and others, the foreigners worked at the plant sometime between March and May 2014. Many of those workers were unable to sufficiently read or write in Japanese.

    Workers at nuclear facilities normally receive advance guidance on nuclear fuel and radiation and need to pass relevant exams. The exams and textbooks are written in Japanese, but some of the foreign workers in question passed the tests after Ishikawa, who is fluent in Japanese, gave them the right answers by their side.

    "There was a tacit understanding amid the rush to combat the contaminated water," Ishikawa said.

    TEPCO refused to reveal the labor situation involving individual foreign laborers when the Mainichi Shimbun reached out for comment, but said it has given guidance to foreign workers "by using English textbooks and having the employer assign interpreters."

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