Japan turns to foreigners to decommission Fukushima plant
TOKYO, Japan – Foreign laborers with sufficient Japanese language skills will for the first time be enlisted to decommission the reactors at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant under new visa rules, the station's operator said on Thursday, April 18.
Operator TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power) has previously used highly skilled foreign engineers in Fukushima, but generally refrained from accepting foreign laborers in work crews there – in part because the jobs requires strong command of the Japanese language to understand technical instructions.
But the government's new visas are available to foreigners with strong Japanese language skills in 14 sectors suffering critical labor shortages such as construction, farming and elderly care.
"The (visa) system is designed for people with certain skill sets and language skills. We will accept foreigners who are industry-ready," TEPCO spokeswoman Mayumi Sugahara told Agence France-Presse.
Roughly 7,200 people work at the Fukushima plant at any given time, and Sugahara said TEPCO has not had difficulty attracting enough workers.
But Japan's construction sector as a whole has long faced a severe labor shortage, despite earlier efforts to loosen visa requirements for foreign workers.
Adding to the labor crunch, Tokyo is currently experiencing a construction boom ahead of the 2020 Olympic Games. (READ: Fukushima evacuees resist return as 'Reconstruction Olympics' nears)
The government hopes to attract roughly 350,000 foreign workers in the 14 selected sectors over the next 5 years.
The new visa system has been viewed as as a policy shift away from Japan's traditional strict immigration programme.
The Fukushima nuclear plant suffered a catastrophic meltdown after an earthquake and tsunami struck in 2011. It was the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl. – Rappler.com