Saturday, January 4, 2014

TEPCO Demands Its Own Employees to Return the Nuclear Accident Compensation Money, Mainichi Shinbun Says

This has got to be a new low for TEPCO, though TEPCO continues to surprise.

From Mainichi Shinbun (1/4/2014; part):

福島原発事故避難:東電 社員に賠償金返還を要求

TEPCO demands employees who were displaced by Fukushima I NPP accident to return [part of] the compensation money


It has been revealed by people concerned that since last spring TEPCO has been demanding its employees who have been displaced by the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant accident to practically return the compensation money of several million yen [tens of thousands of US dollars] to over 10 million yen [over US$100,000] that they each received. ... Because of this demand to return money, young TEPCO employees in their 20s are quitting the job in droves, which could jeopardize the work to restore the plant.

... しかし、ある男性社員は、2012年秋に賠償を打ち切られた。「立ち入り制限のない区域の賃貸住宅に転居した11年夏の時点で避難は終了したとみなす」というのが理由だ。転居前も賃貸住宅に住んでいたのだから、別の賃貸住宅に引っ越した段階で避難は終了した、という。しかし、社員以外なら引っ越しを伴う以上、賠償は打ち切られない。

One male employee had his compensation cut off in fall of 2012. The reason was that "he moved to a rental house in the area with no entry restriction in summer of 2011, at which time the evacuation due to the accident is considered by TEPCO to have been over." [In TEPCO's logic,] since he had lived in a rental house before the move, the evacuation was over when he moved to another rental house. However, compensations for people who are not TEPCO employees are not cut off when they relocate.


What surprised him was a document he received last spring from TEPCO's "Fukushima Nuclear Compensation Counseling Office" which is in charge of compensation. The title of the document said "Adjustment that we would humbly deduct [from future payment]", and the body text said "It has been confirmed that the amount that we have already paid you and the amount that has been correctly computed differ," and the difference amounts to several million yen. It looks TEPCO has decided that several million yen that he received after he moved (summer of 2011) was "in excess".


The employee called the Counseling Office and asked what it meant by "deduct". The answer was that the amount he received in excess would be offset by the future payment. Since he has no future payment coming, as the compensation was cut off, this is practically a demand for the return of money. He further asked, "Are you telling me to return right now?" The answer was "We haven't decided how to have the money returned."


The man asked the Nuclear Damage Compensation Dispute Resolution Center for mediation of settlement in 2013. The Center rejected TEPCO's claim and considered the evacuation was still ongoing for the man and threw out the obligation to return the compensation money. The Center's settlement offer would have TEPCO to pay additional several million yen to the man, but TEPCO refused the offer.


From testimony from multiple sources, there are at least 15 employees who are asked to return the money, and the total exceeds 100 million yen [US$1 million]. One employee told Mainichi that "there are about 100 employees whose compensations have been cut off. Most of them have been asked to return the money."


In Fukushima Prefecture in October [last year], TEPCO held an informational meeting between the top management and the employees. Mainichi Shinbun obtained the audio data of the meeting. The employees angrily told the management, "Everyone is pissed that they are required to pay back the money that was transferred [to their bank accounts]." The management said they would investigate, but there has been no change.

100 million yen. A pittance for TEPCO. Just claw back the retirement money from the then-chairman Katsumata and then-president Shimizu. But instead, they want to collect from its own employees who have been working in the irradiated, wrecked nuclear power plant.

Also from Mainichi (1/4/2014; part):


Demand to return the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant accident compensation money: "We worked in the high radiation[, and we get this]"


One of the male employees who have been asked by TEPCO to return the compensation money worked under the then-plant manager Masao Yoshida right after the start of the Fukushima I Nuclear Plant accident to restore the plant. He worked in the high radiation environment, shaking [with fear of high radiation]. But the company's treatment is cold. Losing hope, young employees quit, one after another. Morale has degraded significantly, and dark clouds are hanging over the decommission work.


The employee is from outside Fukushima Prefecture. After he joined TEPCO, he has spent long years in Fukushima I and II, and continued his work with pride. He has been active in the local community, and says "This is my home."


"I can't ruin my home any further." On March 12, 2011 when the Reactor 1 building exploded, he and his colleagues forced their shaking legs to move and worked. After work, they returned to the anti-seismic building located about 300 meters from Reactor 1, and found the plant manager Yoshida shouting with anger in the teleconference with the TEPCO headquarter [in Tokyo]. But Yoshida was kind to the local employees. He says he was cheered by Yoshida a number of times. "You are all doing great," Yoshida would say.


He was doing the hard work which he felt worthwhile. Then a letter arrived last spring. It said [TEPCO] wanted the return of part of the compensation money, and instructed that he sign the enclosed agreement and send back. "I can't believe it." No matter how many times he read the letter, it was an "invoice" the company sent to him. He was so mortified he cried. He couldn't sleep for days. His colleagues also received the same letter. They feel dark and gloomy at the site, and morale has taken the nosedive.


The monthly salary of the employees was cut by 20% after the start of the accident to begin with. On top of it, the cut off of compensation money (2012) and request for the return of the compensation money (2013 spring) followed. Already, a dozen people, mostly young people in their 20s, left the company. They include people who worked with him to restore the plant. "We all felt responsible, that 'We have caused trouble because of the nuclear power plant we've been operating'. We've worked, clenching our teeth." But they were discouraged by TEPCO's treatment. The worker couldn't say "Don't give up yet" to his colleague who told him he was leaving.


"You did all you could in the high radiation. We will take good care of you." That's what Yoshida told him. "If Mr. Yoshida were still alive, it may not have been this way," he sometimes wonders. "I don't feel like I can go on, but I'll do my best for my home." He hangs on, and goes to work in his TEPCO uniform.

The work uniform of this employee. He said to Mainichi, "After the accident, I can't dry it outside after the wash, for the fear of how the neighbors may think."

Here we go again, sadly. Instead of directing anger to the powerful (whether it is the national government or a large corporation like TEPCO), we pick a far easier target - like a TEPCO employee who has been working at the wrecked plant with the sense of responsibility to his adopted "home".

From my 2/29/2012 post, Dr. Jun Shigemura, psychiatrist at National Defence Medical College who treated the workers at Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant in an interview with Germany's Der Spiegel:

Many come from the area around the plant, the tsunami washed away their homes, their families had to evacuate. The workers have lost their homes, their loved ones are far away and the public blames them, because they work for TEPCO. Many think that TEPCO is responsible for the catastrophe. The workers weren't seen as heroes as they were in Europe. One time, somebody donated fresh vegetables for the workers, because TEPCO at that point wasn't able to provide fresh food inside the evacuation zone. But the donation was made anonymously, because those who gave it didn't want to be caught helping TEPCO workers.

I am currently treating a man in his early forties. He had a house on the coast close to Daiichi that was destroyed by the tsunami. That's when he lost his 7-year-old son. The man had to flee and he tried to rent an apartment somewhere else. But the landlord rejected him because he works for TEPCO. When he finally found a flat the neighbors posted a paper on his door: TEPCO workers get out.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Candidate for Tokyo Governor, in July 2011: "Radiation in Fukushima Is Not That Dangerous."

Mr. Toshio Tamogami is a military commentator who was also a career military officer and the 26th Chief of Staff, Air Self-Defense Force. He hasn't declared his candidacy officially, but hinted that he would run, on January 2 when he visited Yasukuni Shrine.

In July 2011 at a symposium held in Tokyo, Mr. Tamogami said, according to Sankei Shinbun (8/15/2011, cache):


"It is said it's dangerous, but in reality, radiation in Fukushima is not that dangerous. Has a crow flying over the [Fukushima I] nuclear plant dropped from the sky? Have you seen fish floating [and dead] in the ocean near the plant? It is gradually being proven that radiation is not dangerous."

Needless to say, but Mr. Tamogami is pro-nuclear according to his wiki entry in Japanese. He is also from Koriyama City in Fukushima Prefecture.

So the major national media in cahoots with the major political parties routed out Mr. Naoki Inose, a writer, over the campaign finance from the governorship of Tokyo, only to get...

Who is running anyway?

Mr. Tamogami for one, and Mr. Kenji Utsunomiya, a liberal attorney who was the distant second in the December 2012 Tokyo gubernatorial race which was won by Mr. Inose by a landslide.

It looks LDP and DPJ are both eying to present their candidates (possibly the same candidate) at the last possible minute, just in case the luck works.

What luck, you ask?

Historically, for some unknown reason, the candidate who declared his candidacy the last almost always won the race. So they are probably holding the announcement until the last minute.

Does anyone care?

Not much, as far as I've seen or heard so far.

The Tokyo gubernatorial election is to be held on February 9, 2014.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

(OT) Shinzo Abe Sweet Buns You Can Purchase at Yasukuni Shrine

They are made by an enterprising confectionary in Tokyo, I hear.

I also hear on Twitter that someone's friend whose grandfather is enshrined at Yasukuni was saddened and angered by the frivolous wrappings.

From one of many tweets with this photo:

Upper left: Nihon wo tori modosu (Take back Japan) sweet buns, from Japan the land of the rising sun. "Tori" in Japanese is phonetically the same as the word for "bird". The sweet bun is made into a shape of a bird, the wrapping says. Cartoon Abe says, "To a new Japan."

Upper right: Nejire kaisho (No more split Diet) mochi, strong Japan one more time. Cartoon Abe says, "We will never allow split again."

Lower right: Atarashii Shin-chan (New Shinzo Abe) sweet buns, or Abenomics sweet buns, 2% volume up. Cartoon Abe says, "I will be at the helm."

Traditional goods to commemorate the visit to the shrine are in the lower left.

I wonder how brisk the sales are.

#Fukushima I NPP Reactor 3: Debris Removal from Spent Fuel Pool Has Started

There were a few news outlets in late November and early December last year that reported TEPCO would start removing the debris from the Reactor 3 Spent Fuel Pool at Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant in mid December. Hardly anyone paid attention. (No one probably thought it was possible.) Then there was no news of it actually starting.

Well, news or not, the work started on December 17, 2013. That information was shared at the meeting on December 26, 2013 on "Roadmap to Decommissioning", which was available via live feed on the net. However, unless you are one of the dwindling number of reporters and net citizens who continue to follow the accident by attending/watching such meetings, you wouldn't know.

I didn't know because I couldn't watch the whole meeting and didn't take a look at the entire document that contained the information until now.

There is no photos or videos posted at TEPCO's site (in the Photos and Videos Library).

From the 242-page document presented at the December 26, 2013 meeting of "Roadmap to Decommissioning" (pages 152-158):

The slide says:

In order to remove fuel assemblies from the Reactor 3 Spent Fuel Pool, removal of large-size debris in the Spent Fuel Pool started (December 17).

Reinforcing bars and deck plates that won't interfere with the Fuel Handling Machine [number 8 in the 3-D model] will be removed by the first half of February 2014.

The incident that caused the video camera to drop into the pool has been investigated and the countermeasures put in place.

The order of large-size debris removal:

0. Measures to prevent [additional] debris from falling into the pool (by covering with liners)
1. Remove reinforcing bars, deck plates (1->2->3) - Current work
2. Remove masts, trusses (4, 5, 6, 7)
3. Remove the Fuel Handling Machine (8)
4. Remove the end-track on the west side of the Fuel Handling Machine (4)
5. Remove debris from the cask area (10)

Enlarged images:

3-D debris map from a different angle, and the location of the video camera that dropped into the pool in November last year:

Kyodo News reminded readers on its 12/2/2013 article that there are 52 new (not irradiated) fuel assemblies and 514 spent fuel assemblies in the Reactor 3 spent fuel pool.

Kyodo also reports that two cranes will be used, and up to 11 monitoring cameras will be used. All the work will be done by remote-controlled vehicles and equipment. No information whether the human workers are to be posted near the work for further safety monitoring.

All of the MOX fuel that TEPCO had at the plant was in the reactor itself at the time of the accident.

(OT) ... and Music at the Very Beginning of a New Year

A tall bassist in full dress waits, with his bow to the string. A girl drops some coins in the top hat on the pavement, and the bassist starts drawing the bow.

"Ode to Joy", a la flashmob style, in Spain:

Happy New Year.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

(OT) Music at the Very End of Year 2013

Jascha Heifetz, "Bach, Chaconne, take one."

(For Record) #Fukushima I NPP Reactor 3 Operating Floor Situation Summary as of 12/31/2013

The post is for my own record and for those who missed the news in July this year about the steam rising from a gap near the shield plug on the operating floor of Reactor 3 at Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant.

For more posts on the subject, go here.

0. The steam looks like this:

TEPCO's hypothesis from July is that it is part rainwater part leak from the Containment Vessel.

1. The steam was first noticed in July this year, and since then it has been observed numerous times when and after it rains in the geographical area where the plant is located in Fukushima Prefecture (Futaba-machi and Okuma-machi on the Pacific Ocean). It has probably been there since after the March 2011 explosion. Why wasn't the steam noticed earlier? Most likely because of piles of debris on the operating floor, which looked like this from the top, until September 2012 when TEPCO/Kajima started to remove the debris:

(March 24, 2011)

(Video taken on 11/5/2011)

2. Infrared images, taken on July 24 this year, from TEPCO (labels are mine), showing a warm spot with a red X (34.3 degrees Celsius, or 93.74 degrees Fahrenheit) right where the steam was (and still is, occasionally) rising:

3. The air dose rates (gamma radiation) on the operating floor of Reactor 3, particularly around the shield plug, are very high (the latest measurement from November and December this year, presented at the December 26, 2013 meeting to discuss progress of the "roadmap toward decommissioning" - PDF file in Japanese):

The upper numbers: air dose rate in millisievert/hour, at 5 meters off the floor
The lower numbers: localized surface rate in millisievert/hour, measured by a survey meter fitted with collimeter, at 50 centimeters off the floor

(I marked the location of the steam with a blue X.)

But it is more likely that the high air dose rates are not from the occasional weak steam from the spot as seen in the infrared images above, but from the contamination from the fallout in March 2011, from several vents including dry vent (releasing the highly radioactive gas inside the Containment Vessel to outside, without having it go through water to reduce radioactive materials) and the March 14, 2011 explosion of Reactor 3 and steam/smoke afterwards. The steam/smoke in March 2011, as TEPCO casually admitted during the regular press conference on July 24, 2013 (there was no follow-up question from the press), came from a breach in the Containment Vessel of Reactor 3, "as you all know".

As a piece of that evidence,

4. Nuclides analysis result of the radioactive materials in the air, July 25, 2013 shows radioactive cesium in the air where the steam is observed on the operating floor of Reactor 3 is two orders of magnitude lower than the density limit by the nuclear regulation, at 3.3E-05 Bq/cm3 (3.3x10^-5 Bq/cm3 or 0.000033 Bq/cm3, or 0.033 Bq/L, or 3 Bq/m3) for cesium-137, too low to account for several hundred millisieverts per hour radiation:

5. Reactor 3's Spent Fuel Pool is filled with debris big and small, but there are fuel assemblies inside the pool which are cooled with water (water temperature at 11.2 degrees Celsius as of 12/27/2013, from TEPCO's handout for the press.

Video taken in May 2011:

Video taken in September 2012:

Video taken in February 2013:

Again, photos of the Reactor 3 operating floor: (from TEPCO's photos and videos library) March 16, 2011:

March 24, 2011:

July 11, 2012:

September 21, 2012 (SFP, when TEPCO started removing the debris):

May 25, 2013:

October 10, 2013:

(OT) Abe's Yasukuni Shrine Visit and the "Disappointed" US: State Dept Spokesperson Tells Chinese Reporter to Go Get a Dictionary

and learn the difference between "disappointment", "regret" and "concern".

The Chinese reporter's question is quite legitimate, as the words used in diplomatic statements are (or should be) strictly defined and used to convey specific meanings. The US State Department, following the example of the US Embassy in Tokyo, chose the word "disappointed" in their statement regarding Japan's PM Abe's visit to Yasukuni Shrine on December 26, 2013.

But Ms. Harf, deputy spokesperson of the US State Department, told the reporter to get a dictionary and look up.

In passing, Ms. Harf also debunked the story floating in Japan and clearly in Asia that the State Department consulted the White House in choosing the word "disappointed". So much for that story.

From the Daily Press Briefing at the US State Department, 12/30/2013:

QUESTION: Some media reports that U.S. officials from State Department discussed with officials from White House and finally chose the word “disappointed” rather than “regret” or “concern” to express a stronger or tougher tone. I mean, what kind of message does U.S. trying to send to the Japanese Government?

MS. HARF: Well, I think our message is very clear from the words we chose. I don’t know those reports about interagency communications. Obviously, we talk to our colleagues at the White House all the time. I think we’ve made very clear that we were disappointed, that we think this will exacerbate tensions. I think those words are very clear in their meaning, and I wouldn’t probably wordsmith them any further to try and get deeper meaning out of them.

QUESTION: So you have no differences between “regret” --

MS. HARF: Us and the White House?

QUESTION: No, I mean the differences between “disappointed, “regret,” or “concern.”

MS. HARF: I’m happy for you to get a dictionary and look up what the difference is. I think it’s pretty clear what I mean when I say “disappointed.”

If you are in Japan or following the Japanese media and social media, you would know that this "disappointed" statement by Caroline Kennedy's US Embassy in Tokyo and the State Department has been causing a tremendous stress among Japanese citizens on and off the net.

It is almost comical to see people who normally accuse the Japanese government (particularly the LDP one under PM Abe and more specifically Mr. Abe himself) of always taking orders from and following orders of the United States quite upset that Mr. Abe defied the US (who had reportedly expressed opposition to the visit) and so upset the US that the US issued "such a strong statement" using the word "disappointed".

Most Japanese only understand the Japanese word for "disappointed" - which can be translated into Japanese as 失望 (shitsu-bo), or literally "loss of hope", and that's the Japanese word that the US Embassy chose (I presume, and not Googled) in the provisional (reference) Japanese translation.

In the Press Briefing video, Ms. Harf looks annoyed that she has to work at the end of December.

Monday, December 30, 2013

#Fukushima I NPP: Multi-Nuclide Removal System (ALPS) May Be Obsolete Even Before It Starts Full Operation

TEPCO was counting on the multi-nuclide removal system ALPS (Advanced Liquid Processing System) to be operational in the summer of 2012, so that the only remaining radionuclide in the water going through the treatment cycle would be tritium.

The system, advertised as Toshiba's system but in fact developed by EnergySolutions based in Utah in the United States, was supposed to remove strontium and a host of other alpha, beta and gamma nuclides that still exist after cesium absorption (by SARRY and Kurion) and desalination (reverse osmosis, mostly).

The first hiccup came when Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) was abolished and replaced by Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) in September 2012. NRA demanded additional safety tests of the vessels that would store highly radioactive waste after the treatment by ALPS, and hot tests were delayed. Then throughout this year, the system with three lines were on again off again in hot tests that started in March this year because of the leaks from tanks and vessels from what look like poor welds. (For ALPS problems, see my posts here.)

Then around October this year, I started to hear that there would be another set of ALPS to accelerate the treatment. But then in November, I read a magazine article in which a researcher said the current ALPS was not capable of effectively removing strontium, and an entirely new system needed to be developed.

Then finally I found this document (PDF) in the website of Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (who continues to be in charge of promoting the nuclear energy and for reasons unknown to me in charge of dealing with contaminated water at Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant):

The first meeting of a task force for a high performance multi-nuclide removal system

November 29, 2013

prepared by Tokyo Electric Power Company, Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy, and Toshiba

This document (available only in Japanese) is from the first meeting of the task force on November 29, 2013 at METI. I believe it was a closed meeting, and there was no news coverage as far as I know.

The presentation is, as often the case with TEPCO's, a fine example of how not to make a presentation as each page is jammed with information some of which does not belong on the page. So I'm doing my best to piece together a cohesive story here.

First, this is the current ALPS system, in trial hot runs at Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant:

(From TEPCO's 3/29/2013 presentation in English)

Take note of the "Pretreatment Facilities", made up of iron coprecipitation and carbonate coprecipitation systems, and producing highly contaminated slurry as waste product to be stored in the "high integrity containers (HIC)" (I believe it was these containers that NRA wanted tested for integrity by dropping from height).

Now, it turns out that this pretreatment system produces too much waste product, according to the document at METI (English translation is mine):

"Estimated total waste product from the existing system is 2,300m3 annually (800 High Integrity Containers), 95% of which is the slurry from pretreatment (iron coprecipitation and carbonate coprecipitation)."


"In order to reduce waste product, we need to develop a radionuclide removal process that does not use iron coprecipitation and carbonate coprecipitation but is able to remove radionuclides as well as, or better than, the existing system."

Uh oh. After paying Toshiba and Kajima (construction) a ton of money to build a huge system (see the photos below) that is not even in full operation yet, they need a new one because the current one produces too much waste.

What I don't understand is that they, particularly Toshiba who picked EnergySolution's technology, should have known from the very beginning that the current ALPS system would create a large amount of slurry from coprecipitation process, much like the decontamination system by AREVA that use coprecipitation process (AREVA's system was stopped and practically abandoned when too much, highly radioactive slurry was created as the waste, on top of numerous technical problems).

But wait, it is not just about the amount of toxic waste that the existing ALPS is not performing to expectations. It's also about how it removes radionuclides.

From the document at METI, TEPCO/Toshiba(/Hitachi-GE) thought radionuclides, particularly cesium and strontium, existed in the contaminated water as "ions" at the time when the current ALPS system was being designed. However, it turns out that the nuclides exist in the contaminated water mostly as "colloids" and "particulates", not "ions". The existing ALPS system is fitted with ion-exchange media from the Finnish company Fortum. Uh Oh.

More than 93% of cesium-137 in the post-RO (reverse osmosis for desalination) waste water exists as "colloids", less than 2% as "ions" and 5% as "particulates".

59% of all beta (strontium-89, -90, Y-90) exists as "colloids", 37% as "particulates", and 4% as "ions".

The existing absorption materials (in vessels) can only remove these nuclides in "ion" form. The nuclides in "colloids" and "particulates" are removed by the pretreatment process, thus the large amount of slurry waste.

So now, after two full years of building and testing the ALPS, it is obsolete even before it reaches full operation.

At least this was on TEPCO's own money, not the taxpayers' money, though I feel sorry for the workers made to work in a high-radiation environment.

ALPS (photo taken on September 16, 2012):

housed in :

(OT) Performance of East Asian Stock Markets in 2013

Maybe this is one of the reasons Japan's Abe decided to go visit the war shrine, thinking his "Abenomics" has won...

From January 4 to December 30, 2013:

  • Japan's Nikkei: up over 50%

  • Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index: flat

  • Shanghai's Composit Index: down 8%

  • South Korea's Kospi: flat

(Chart created at

Of course the depreciating currency of Japan has helped a great deal.

Japanese yen, from November 2012 to December 2013:

The Japanese government and the South Korean government have reduced the size of the currency swaps since October 2012 to an insignificant level ($10 billion). Though the South Korean government has since expanded the currency swaps with China, it now has less ammo to cheapen its own currency.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

(UPDATED) Reuters Special Report: Japan's Homeless Recruited for Murky Fukushima Clean-Up

(UPDATE 12/30/2013) It was almost amusing to view a tweet from someone apparently in Fukushima Prefecture quoting my tweet (in Japanese) about the Reuters article below, who said what a terrible translation my tweet was (probably without even seeing the English article). What part was terrible for this person? That there were 733 companies contracting decon work in Fukushima from the Ministry of the Environment, apparently. Go figure.

(UPDATE 12/30/2013) Short video news from Reuters on the subject:


Remember the State Secrecy Protection Law that passed on a Friday in November in Japan? One of my twitter followers commented, "Good timing. No one will remember it on Monday."

Sure enough, the Japanese national media almost completely dropped their coverage the next Monday. So much for the citizens' right to know, and freedom of the press that they harped about when the Upper House was debating the bill.

They said, almost all of them, "If the law passes, the coverage of the Fukushima nuclear accident will be suppressed by the government."

Well the Japanese media doesn't need the secrecy law to stop writing about the nuclear accident, as no one in the Japanese national media ever writes about what the US Reuters just wrote about.

Reuters reports that Japan's homeless continue to be recruited to work in the decontamination jobs in Fukushima Prefecture, and some of them are forced to go into debt by doing so. Five companies in the Ministry of the Environment registry for decontamination jobs cannot even be identified, says Reuters.

Taxpayers' money at work, and no report, no naming names in the Japanese media.

From Reuters (12/29/2013; part, emphasis is mine):

Special Report: Japan's homeless recruited for murky Fukushima clean-up

By Mari Saito and Antoni Slodkowski

(Reuters) - Seiji Sasa hits the train station in this northern Japanese city before dawn most mornings to prowl for homeless men.

He isn't a social worker. He's a recruiter. The men in Sendai Station are potential laborers that Sasa can dispatch to contractors in Japan's nuclear disaster zone for a bounty of $100 a head.

"This is how labor recruiters like me come in every day," Sasa says, as he strides past men sleeping on cardboard and clutching at their coats against the early winter cold.

It's also how Japan finds people willing to accept minimum wage for one of the most undesirable jobs in the industrialized world: working on the $35 billion, taxpayer-funded effort to clean up radioactive fallout across an area of northern Japan larger than Hong Kong.

Almost three years ago, a massive earthquake and tsunami leveled villages across Japan's northeast coast and set off multiple meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear plant. Today, the most ambitious radiation clean-up ever attempted is running behind schedule. The effort is being dogged by both a lack of oversight and a shortage of workers, according to a Reuters analysis of contracts and interviews with dozens of those involved.

In January, October and November, Japanese gangsters were arrested on charges of infiltrating construction giant Obayashi Corp's network of decontamination subcontractors and illegally sending workers to the government-funded project.

In the October case, homeless men were rounded up at Sendai's train station by Sasa, then put to work clearing radioactive soil and debris in Fukushima City for less than minimum wage, according to police and accounts of those involved. The men reported up through a chain of three other companies to Obayashi, Japan's second-largest construction company.

Obayashi, which is one of more than 20 major contractors involved in government-funded radiation removal projects, has not been accused of any wrongdoing. But the spate of arrests has shown that members of Japan's three largest criminal syndicates - Yamaguchi-gumi, Sumiyoshi-kai and Inagawa-kai - had set up black-market recruiting agencies under Obayashi.



Part of the problem in monitoring taxpayer money in Fukushima is the sheer number of companies involved in decontamination, extending from the major contractors at the top to tiny subcontractors many layers below them. The total number has not been announced. But in the 10 most contaminated towns and a highway that runs north past the gates of the wrecked plant in Fukushima, Reuters found 733 companies were performing work for the Ministry of Environment, according to partial contract terms released by the ministry in August under Japan's information disclosure law.

Reuters found 56 subcontractors listed on environment ministry contracts worth a total of $2.5 billion in the most radiated areas of Fukushima that would have been barred from traditional public works because they had not been vetted by the construction ministry.

The 2011 law that regulates decontamination put control under the environment ministry, the largest spending program ever managed by the 10-year-old agency. The same law also effectively loosened controls on bidders, making it possible for firms to win radiation removal contracts without the basic disclosure and certification required for participating in public works such as road construction.

Reuters also found five firms working for the Ministry of Environment that could not be identified. They had no construction ministry registration, no listed phone number or website, and Reuters could not find a basic corporate registration disclosing ownership. There was also no record of the firms in the database of Japan's largest credit research firm, Teikoku Databank.

"As a general matter, in cases like this, we would have to start by looking at whether a company like this is real," said Shigenobu Abe, a researcher at Teikoku Databank. "After that, it would be necessary to look at whether this is an active company and at the background of its executive and directors."

Responsibility for monitoring the hiring, safety records and suitability of hundreds of small firms involved in Fukushima's decontamination rests with the top contractors, including Kajima Corp, Taisei Corp and Shimizu Corp, officials said.

"In reality, major contractors manage each work site," said Hide Motonaga, deputy director of the radiation clean-up division of the environment ministry.

But, as a practical matter, many of the construction companies involved in the clean-up say it is impossible to monitor what is happening on the ground because of the multiple layers of contracts for each job that keep the top contractors removed from those doing the work.

"If you started looking at every single person, the project wouldn't move forward. You wouldn't get a tenth of the people you need," said Yukio Suganuma, president of Aisogo Service, a construction company that was hired in 2012 to clean up radioactive fallout from streets in the town of Tamura.

Seiji Sasa, 67, a broad-shouldered former wrestling promoter, was photographed by undercover police recruiting homeless men at the Sendai train station to work in the nuclear cleanup. The workers were then handed off through a chain of companies reporting up to Obayashi, as part of a $1.4 million contract to decontaminate roads in Fukushima, police say.

"I don't ask questions; that's not my job," Sasa said in an interview with Reuters. "I just find people and send them to work. I send them and get money in exchange. That's it. I don't get involved in what happens after that."

Only a third of the money allocated for wages by Obayashi's top contractor made it to the workers Sasa had found. The rest was skimmed by middlemen, police say. After deductions for food and lodging, that left workers with an hourly rate of about $6, just below the minimum wage equal to about $6.50 per hour in Fukushima, according to wage data provided by police. Some of the homeless men ended up in debt after fees for food and housing were deducted, police say.

Sasa was arrested in November and released without being charged. Police were after his client, Mitsunori Nishimura, a local Inagawa-kai gangster. Nishimura housed workers in cramped dorms on the edge of Sendai and skimmed an estimated $10,000 of public funding intended for their wages each month, police say.


In Fukushima, Shuto has faced at least two claims with local labor regulators over unpaid wages, according to Kaneda. In a separate case, a 55-year-old homeless man reported being paid the equivalent of $10 for a full month of work at Shuto. The worker's paystub, reviewed by Reuters, showed charges for food, accommodation and laundry were docked from his monthly pay equivalent to about $1,500, leaving him with $10 at the end of the August.

The man turned up broke and homeless at Sendai Station in October after working for Shuto, but disappeared soon afterwards, according to Yasuhiro Aoki, a Baptist pastor and homeless advocate.

Kaneda confirmed the man had worked for her but said she treats her workers fairly. She said Shuto Kogyo pays workers at least $80 for a day's work while docking the equivalent of $35 for food. Many of her workers end up borrowing from her to make ends meet, she said. One of them had owed her $20,000 before beginning work in Fukushima, she says. The balance has come down recently, but then he borrowed another $2,000 for the year-end holidays.

"He will never be able to pay me back," she said.

The problem of workers running themselves into debt is widespread. "Many homeless people are just put into dormitories, and the fees for lodging and food are automatically docked from their wages," said Aoki, the pastor. "Then at the end of the month, they're left with no pay at all."

Shizuya Nishiyama, 57, says he briefly worked for Shuto clearing rubble. He now sleeps on a cardboard box in Sendai Station. He says he left after a dispute over wages, one of several he has had with construction firms, including two handling decontamination jobs.

Nishiyama's first employer in Sendai offered him $90 a day for his first job clearing tsunami debris. But he was made to pay as much as $50 a day for food and lodging. He also was not paid on the days he was unable to work. On those days, though, he would still be charged for room and board. He decided he was better off living on the street than going into debt.

"We're an easy target for recruiters," Nishiyama said. "We turn up here with all our bags, wheeling them around and we're easy to spot. They say to us, are you looking for work? Are you hungry? And if we haven't eaten, they offer to find us a job."

(Full article at the link)

Shuto, in the article, is a contractor who hires and sends workers to Fukushima. Ms. Kaneda, who generously lends money to workers to make ends meet after her firm deducts a ton of money from their pay, was arrested in 2009 for charging illegally high interest rates on loans to pensioners, says Reuters.

Most people in Japan continue to look toward the horizon longingly where the beautiful nuclear-free future is supposed to lie, while pretending not to know the not-so-pleasant details of the nuclear accident.

(OT) Is This the Level of Understanding on Fukushima I NPP Accident in the US?

(UPDATE 12/31/2013) For those who want the summary of the steam incident since July this year and the Reactor 3 operating floor condition since the March 2011 accident, I have a new post.


An acquaintance who casually follows the Fukushima I NPP accident sent me a link, quite worried. I opened the link, and I started laughing, then I despaired - realizing that this may be the current level of understanding in the US when it comes to the Fukushima I NPP accident.

I have no idea who this is ("Turner Radio Network - Free Speech, No Matter Who Doesn't Like It"), but it has an urgent news flash on December 28, 2013:

Persons residing on the west coast of North America should IMMEDIATELY begin preparing for another possible onslaught of dangerous atmospheric radiation from the Fukushima nuclear disaster site in Japan. The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) says radioactive steam has suddenly begun emanating from previously exploded nuclear reactor building #3 at the Fukuishima disaster site in Japan. TEPCO says they do not know why this is happening and cannot go into the building to see what's happening due to damage and lethal radiation levels in that building. Experts say this could be the beginning of a "spent fuel pool criticality (meltdown)" ...

The page shows a photograph of Reactor 3 steaming vigorously to lend support to the contention above.

The problem? It is a photo from March 2011 right after the building blew up.

Further down the post,

The video below was taken several months ago by TEPCO. It shows that the roof is totally blown off reactor building # 3

Uh... no. All the debris on the operating floor of Reactor 3 has been painstakingly removed, piece by piece, by remote-control cranes and shovels supervised by carbon-based human workers wearing tungsten vests who were physically there on the platform surrounding the reactor building.

The readers of this blog know (I hope) about the story of this "steam" rising from Reactor 3's operating floor. The best hypothesis so far is that this is a combination of rainwater going through the gaps and reaching the Containment Vessel below and being heated up and the steam leaking from a breach somewhere in the Containment Vessel as nitrogen gas is injected into the CV. The steam tends to get observed when it is raining or after it rains.

The steam rising from the gap in the Reactor 3 operating floor looks like this:

I suppose it is free speech to claim this is vigorous enough to reach the height of the jet stream and hit the west coast of North America. Or, to use the favorite refrain among many Japanese, "erring on the side of caution".

The lack of coverage of the Fukushima nuclear accident by the established media in the US has been being filled by the alternative media. For good or bad.

For those who care to know, this is what the operating floor of Reactor 3 looked like, and looks like now (from TEPCO's photos and videos library):

March 16, 2011:

March 24, 2011:

July 11, 2012:

September 21, 2012 (SFP, when TEPCO started removing the debris):

May 25, 2013:

October 10, 2013: