Japanese mafia feared in control of labor at Fukushima nuclear clean-up

Programming note: I’ll be talking with Nicole Sandler today (Wednesday) on her show about the Fukushima nuclear reactor disaster. You’ll recall that the disaster was destroyed during the Japanese earthquake and tsunami a few years back. The segment is scheduled for 11:30am ET today. Please tune in if you can.

UPDATE: The show is posted. To listen, click here and play starting at the 1:24:45 point. It was a good discussion, and we got deeply into the neoliberal aspect of this story as well.

Here’s your bulk-update of Fukushima news. In brief:

▪ The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), which runs the Fukushima nuclear plant, will delay plans to remove the 400+ tons of damaged nuclear fuel rods from the tilted, leaking Reactor 4 fuel chamber in order to do some “testing.”

▪ Top Japanese-Canadian environmental scientist and writer says, “I’ve seen a paper which says it’s bye-bye Japan” — and we should evacuate North America’s west coast if Reactor 4 goes up.

▪ The TEPCO site is so unmanaged that it’s crawling with Yakuza (Japanese mafia) and frightened Yakuza-controlled contract employees.

And a bonus episode: See why this is the classic neoliberal clusterchuck answer to a classic good government–public policy problem. The details of each of these stories are below.

TEPCO to delay work on Fukushima Reactor 4 fuel rods for “up to two weeks”

TEPCO was due to start work removing more than 1500 fuel rods (most of them spent but highly radioactive, some “fully loaded”) from the damaged fuel rod storage pool 50 feet above-ground in the Reactor 4 building. (That’s Reactor 4 in the image just below, as it appeared after the earthquake and tsunami had done their work.)

Fukushima Reactor 4 after earthquake and tsunami severely damaged it

Fukushima Reactor 4 after earthquake and tsunami severely damaged it

Apparently the international concern has gotten to TEPCO, or at least, has gotten to the Japanese government, who had been — up to this point — giving their corrupt friends at TEPCO a free hand.

Via Kyodo News (my emphasis):

TEPCO to conduct test for Fukushima No. 4 unit fuel removal

Tokyo Electric Power Co. [TEPCO] will conduct a test for nuclear fuel removal at the No. 4 reactor building at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi power plant, delaying the start of the actual fuel removal operation by up to two weeks, sources close to the matter said Monday [November 3].

The operator of the plant, crippled in the March 2011 quake and tsunami disaster, planned to start removing nuclear fuel from a cooling pool at the reactor building as early as next Friday [November 8].

The decision comes after a government-affiliated nuclear safety agency called for an initial test operation, including transporting a protective fuel cask from the storage pool to another pool in a different building about 100 meters away for more stable conditions for cooling spent fuel, the sources said.

Two weeks from November 8 is November 21 (another Friday), though things could start popping (sorry, happening) earlier. Let’s see how that test goes. In my dreams, and Harvey Wasserman’s, it would be broadcast live.

I mentioned TEPCO’s corrupt friends above. How corrupt? Keep reading.

Noted scientist and science presenter David Suzuki: “Could be bye-bye Japan”

The calls from knowledgeable science and media people — those not affiliated with an apparent neoliberal (privatized anti-regulation) protection racket — to put this situation under international control are coming fast and thick. I covered many of them in an earlier post, including industry engineer Arnie Gundersen and Dr. Helen Caldicott, both of whom are very very worried.

The longtime activist and writer Harvey Wasserman is also concerned, and has a petition you can sign that says, “Turn the site over to international control.”

Now noted Canadian scientist and science presenter David Suzuki (this guy) issues another dire warning. In a symposium recently he said the following (video here; bolded emphasis mine):

We’re always being told these technologies are fool-proof. But what is a fool-proof technology? It’s a technology free of fools. …

Fukushima is the most terrifying situation I can imagine. You ask what can we do. First of all you have got a government that is in total collusion with TEPCO, the energy company. They’re lying through their teeth [emphasis his]. …

Three out of the four plants were destroyed in the earthquake and the tsunami. The fourth one has been so badly damaged that the fear is, if there’s another earthquake of a 7 or above [on the Richter scale], that that building will go and then all hell breaks loose. And the probability of a 7 or above earthquake in the next three years is over 95 per cent. …

They don’t know what to do. And the thing we need is to get an international group of experts to go in with complete freedom to do what they suggest. …

I have seen a paper which says that if in fact the fourth plant goes under in an earthquake and those rods are exposed, it’s bye bye Japan and everybody on the west coast of North America should evacuate. Now if that isn’t terrifying, I don’t know what is.

Read to see why he’s so upset. I have verified the fact that one of the outcomes is a criticality (nuclear fission event, not just a “dirty bomb”) involving all 6,000 fuel rods at the site. There are degrees of “criticality” ranging from “atom bomb” (unlikely here, we think) to “simple” uncontrolled fission and massive radiation release. In this case, “massive release” could mean as much as 85 times the radioactive Cesium as was released at Chernobyl. Gundersen (my paragraphing):

“There is a risk of an inadvertent criticality if the bundles are distorted and get too close to each other,” Gundersen said. He was referring to an atomic chain reaction that left unchecked could result in a large release of radiation and heat that the fuel pool cooling system isn’t designed to absorb.

“The problem with a fuel pool criticality is that you can’t stop it. There are no control rods to control it,” Gundersen said. “The spent fuel pool cooling system is designed only to remove decay heat, not heat from an ongoing nuclear reaction.”

The rods are also vulnerable to fire should they be exposed to air, Gundersen said.

Feeling lucky?

The Japanese mafia allegedly in control of subcontracted work at Fukushima

This brings us to the neoliberal (privatized, anti-regulation) part of the story. Just as the site is not controlled by the Japanese government, but by a private corporation (TEPCO), the company itself is not really in charge. Instead it has itself outsourced the work to a vast network of contractors, subcontractors and sub-subcontractors, many with mafia (Yakuza) connections.

According to Reuters, the layers of subcontracting go seven or more deep. Here’s RT on the same story, including mafia (Yakuza) connections:

Revelations from a Fukushima cleanup worker-turned-whistleblower have exposed the plant’s chaotic system of subcontractors, their alleged mafia connections and the super-exploitation of indigent workers doing this dangerous work.

Nuclear plant via Shutterstock.

Nuclear plant via Shutterstock.

The allegations, contained in an investigative report by Reuters [see my link below], have also exposed deeply-rooted problems within Japan’s nuclear industry as a whole. In the report, detailing the everyday realities of workers at the stricken facility, Reuters interviewed an estimated 80 casual workers and managers. The most common complaint voiced was the cleanup effort’s utter dependence on subcontractors – which it is alleged endangered not just workers’ rights, but also their lives.

Tetsuya Hayashi, a 41-tyear-old construction worker by trade, applied for a job at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, after he suspected that the plant was in deeper trouble than it was willing to admit. The $150 billion cleanup effort, which is expected to last several decades into the future, has already required up to 50,000, mostly casual workers.

However, Hayashi only lasted two weeks on the job, as it became apparent that the vast network of subcontractors involved in the cleanup efforts could not care less for his rights (or his health), while Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO), the plant’s operator, was doing little except giving subcontractors a slap on the wrist. …

In this race to the bottom over workers’ rights and pay, many subcontractors with allegedly questionable connections gained control of the impoverished Fukushima prefecture’s market for cleanup jobs. It is those companies that have taken advantage of the staggering shortage of cleanup workers and allowed companies associated with the plant with alleged ties with Japan’s organized crime syndicates, the yakuza, to flourish. And there are close to 50 gangs affiliated with three major syndicates in the prefecture alone – a fact that had an effect on the local labor market long before the tragedy of March 2011. …

In some cases, workers in debt to the yakuza would be hired, with brokers deducting their debts direct from their wage packets – often brown envelopes. What would follow was labor at sharply reduced wages, as the men worked tirelessly to pay back the brokers that hired them.

The underlying Reuters investigative piece is here.

Your neoliberal public-private partnerships at work

See what I mean about “public-private partnerships”?  This is the corrupt nexus of government and their cronies in the private sector who all agree that government exists to give business to its friends in business. Private solutions to public problems, because … well, jobs (or corruption) or something.

You saw that in Chicago, with the parking meter scheme, and you’re seeing it here.

What do you call the theory that government exists to serve business to business? Neoliberalism. And no, that’s not snark. That’s the definition.

I’ll have more on neoliberalism later. But for now, this is the world as brought to you by Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and … yes, the corrupt Japanese government. Why should the U.S. take over the Gulf Oil spill, when BP is already on the job? Why should the U.S. offer affordable, easy-to-understand health insurance, when all these private insurance companies are already on the job.

And why should the Japanese government take over Fukushima when its friends at TEPCO are there already, eager to serve (a myriad of friendly subcontractors)?

Feeling lucky? I’m sure not.


To follow or send links: @Gaius_Publius

Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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