Wrecked Japanese nuclear plant to double pay after criticism

Workers wearing protective suits and masks work on a crane for a transport container inside the No. 4 reactor building at the tsunami-crippled TEPCO's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima prefecture, November 7, 2013. REUTERS/Tomohiro Ohsumi/Pool

By Osamu Tsukimori TOKYO (Reuters) - The operator of Japan's wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant will double the pay of contract workers as part of a revamp of operations at the station, after coming under criticism for its handling of clean-up efforts. Hazard pay for the thousands of workers on short-term contracts will be increased from 10,000 yen ($100) to 20,000 yen a day, Tokyo Electric Power Co said in a statement on Friday. It will also tighten supervision of contractors and improve meals and other conditions at the site where three reactors melted down in March 2011 after an earthquake and tsunami. A Reuters investigation last month found that workers' pay was being skimmed, some had been hired under false pretences, and some contractors had links to organized crime gangs. Tokyo Electric also faces a shortage of workers for the clean-up, that will take decades and cost more than $150 billion. The revamp of operations comes as the company prepares to start removing spent fuel rods from one of four damaged reactors. The unprecedented operation, which could begin next week, will mark the beginning of full decommissioning efforts. The utility has been heavily criticized by Japan's nuclear regulator over conditions at the site after workers were contaminated with radiation during often slipshod clean-up operations along with other mishaps. "It is extremely important to secure a workforce," the president of the company, Naomi Hirose, told a news briefing. "Whether an increase from 10,000 yen to 20,000 yen is adequate is another matter." The company didn't give an estimate of the cost of the improvements. The regulator has also told the utility to focus less on trying to get one of its other nuclear plants, indefinitely shut down for safety checks, running again at the expense of clean-up efforts at Fukushima. MASSIVE LIABILITIES The plan released on Friday also lays out improvements to the management of hundreds of thousands of tonnes of contaminated water building up, which comes from groundwater mixing with coolant poured over melted uranium rods. The utility, known as Tepco, has floundered since the disaster, struggling to get to grips with it and clear up the site of the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986. The 2011 earthquake and tsunami knocked out power and cooling at the plant, leading to the reactor meltdowns along with explosions that sent a huge plume of radiation into the air and sea, forcing 160,000 people to evacuate nearby townships. Tepco has lost $27 billion since the disaster at the plant on the coast north of Tokyo and faces massive liabilities as it decommissions the facility, compensates evacuees and pays for decontamination of an area nearly the size of Connecticut. After months of denials, Tepco confirmed in July that contaminated water from the plant was flowing into the Pacific Ocean. It has also found that 300 tonnes of highly radioactive water leaked from one of hundreds of quickly built storage tanks, among numerous other problems. ($1 = 99.0450 yen) (Reporting by Osamu Tsukimori; Writing by Aaron Sheldrick; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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