Japan says UN experts' call to protect nuclear clean-up workers is 'regrettable'

Tokyo Electric Power Company has been widely criticised for its treatment of workers and its handling of the cleanup, which is expected to take decades.
Tokyo Electric Power Company has been widely criticised for its treatment of workers and its handling of the cleanup, which is expected to take decades.PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Japan on Friday (Aug 17) described as "extremely regrettable" a call by United Nations human rights experts for greater protection of workers cleaning up its damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, and said it had notified UN officials of its reaction.

Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), the utility that owns the plant hit by a tsunami in 2011 that set off meltdowns, has been widely criticised for its treatment of workers and its handling of the clean-up, which is expected to take decades.

In a statement on Thursday, the UN experts urged Japan to act urgently to protect tens of thousands of the workers from reported exploitation and radiation exposure, citing fears over possible coercion and adequate training and protective steps.

The Foreign Ministry, however, said on Friday that Japan is conducting reliable management of radiation levels for Fukushima workers, and had already informed the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) of this, along with data.

"The fact that this statement was issued despite this is extremely regrettable, and this was conveyed to the OHCHR in Geneva on Thursday," it added.

The UN rights experts had said they were engaged in a dialogue with Japan since last year, with the government accepting to "follow up" on some recommendations.

A Reuters investigation in 2013 had found widespread labour abuses. Some workers said their pay was skimmed and spoke of scant scrutiny of working conditions. Tepco said at the time that it was taking steps to limit worker abuse.