TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The Japanese government on Tuesday urged the operator of the disaster-stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant to carefully examine its plan to have foreigners work at the complex under a new visa program, citing difficulties in managing the long-term health risk.
"It is necessary to give very deliberate consideration" to whether foreigners who come to Japan under the new visa program should engage in decommissioning work at the plant, labor minister Takumi Nemoto told reporters.
Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. said last month it plans to accept foreign workers at the facility hit by the 2011 megaquake and tsunami.
The minister expressed concern about the ability to conduct long-term health management for foreign workers after they return to their home countries upon expiration of their visas.
"It is necessary to establish a safety and health management procedure that is equivalent or more advanced than that for Japanese workers," Nemoto said.
The new visa program launched this April is intended to bring in mainly blue-collar foreign workers to 14 labor-hungry sectors including construction, farming and nursing care in aging Japan. TEPCO has confirmed with the Justice Ministry that holders of visas under the scheme are eligible to work at the Fukushima plant.
The government also urged TEPCO to consider implementing measures to manage the amount of radiation exposure for workers engaged in decommissioning tasks.
It also requested the utility to study whether it can use native languages for safety training and when issuing safety warnings at workplaces for workers who lack general proficiency in the Japanese language and familiarity with the country's customs.
The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare demanded TEPCO report back to the ministry on the outcome of its deliberations without setting a deadline.
TEPCO said it has told dozens of its subcontractors that foreigners coming to Japan under the new visa program can not only engage in decommissioning work at the plant, but also take up building cleaning roles and work in the provision of food service.
To prevent unsafe levels of radiation exposure, TEPCO has 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.
To address exploitation fears under the new visa system, the Justice Ministry has issued an ordinance requiring employers to pay wages equivalent to or higher than those of Japanese nationals.