Japan: cronyism, collusion, gentrification, corruption, weak regulation.

Wow that is a mouth full! Great article the link sent to me by my Osaka connection Jean, thank man great find. I am posting here to keep everyone in tune with what is happen and not happening here in the land of the rising radiation.

This article by Jake Adelstein and Stephanie Nakajima who you can read more great stuff from on Japan Subculture.

‘Jump in a nuclear reactor and die!’

Those were the words directed at the chairman of Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) by one angry man at the tense stockholders meeting held today on June 28. It captured the sentiment of many people in Japan who are demanding the company take responsibility for the meltdown on March 11, at the nuclear power plant TEPCO managed and owns. The meeting inside did not run smoothly but meltdown was avoided. Outside the meeting, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department Riot Squad held back the right- and left-wing demonstrators as well as a contingent of anti-nuclear protesters. Tsunehisa Katsumata, the chairman of the firm offered his apologies. He was re-elected as chairman the same day. He is a very good apologist. In 2003, after it had been widely reported that TEPCO had falsified safety data at dozens of reactors he also spoke for the company saying, “I wish to begin by expressing regret for the recent cases of misconduct at our company, which have eroded public confidence in the nuclear power industry.”

Recent events have not helped restore that public confidence.

Every evening NHK, the BBC of Japan, announces the radiation levels for major cities in the country as regularly as the weather report. Another nightly news staple is the Tokyo Electric Power Company, the monolithic corporation which has a monopoly on electric power in the greater Tokyo area and operated the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant where at least three nuclear reactors melted down, irradiating the entire nation and forcing thousands to evacuate. The meltdown began on March 11, the day a 9.0 magnitude earthquake devastated Japan. For the first day, TEPCO strongly denied any problems at the plant but by March 12, reactor one had already melted down. Each subsequent day brings more news of radiation leaking from the plant and mistakes, cover-ups, and corporate malfeasance by TEPCO. Slowly voices within and outside the Japanese government are beginning to suggest that it’s time to dismantle the company and put their nuclear plants under government supervision; books highly critical of the firmare becoming best sellers.

TEPCO has become a symbol of everything that is wrong with the nation of Japan: cronyism, collusion, gentrification, corruption, weak regulation, and entropy. Despite being in the spotlight for the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, TEPCO continues to engage in questionable labor practices, and has escaped bankruptcy in closed-door meetings with politicians, and through denying culpability has shifted part of the reparations burden onto taxpayers – deeds which testify to the extent to which TEPCO still has plenty of political power, if not as much nuclear power.

After an expose in the weekly magazine Shukan Bunshun, last week TEPCO admitted that 69 of its plant workers can’t be located for radiation checks—30 of them were found not even to have had their names recorded. This raises questions about how these workers were recruited, paid, monitored for radiation exposure, or vetted before entering the site of the nuclear disaster. Former and current workers within the plant testify that many of the hired hands are yakuza or ex-yakuza members. One company supplying the firm with contract workers is a known Japanese mafia front company. TEPCO when questioned would only say, “We don’t have knowledge of who is ultimately supplying the labor at the end of the outsourcing. We do not have organized crime exclusionary clauses in our standard contracts but are considering it.” The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) has asked the company to “submit a report” on the matter.

TEPCO is often asked to submit reports. In fact, nine days before the meltdown, on March 2, NISA issued TEPCO a warning for their failure to inspect key pieces of equipment at the plant, and wanted a report on the matter by June 2. The report does not appear to have been received yet.

A dark history

For months, TEPCO has been insisting that the cause of the nuclear disaster was the “unprecedented” tidal wave which flooded the emergency generators, delaying cooling. Katsunobu Onda, the investigative journalist who wrote the recently reissued expose TEPCO: The Dark Empire (東京電力・帝国の暗黒 ) in 2007, felt a strange sense of déjà vu when listening to the claim that this accident was “unforseeable” (soteigai) at the initial press conferences. “It was the exact same phrase trotted out in July of 2007, when a 6.8 magnitude earthquake in Niigata resulted in leakage of radiation from the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant, and a fire which TEPCO was unable to quickly extinguish,” he notes. The possibility of a tidal wave causing a nuclear meltdown was not unforeseeable either; members of the Fukushima Diet (the local legislature) had warned the company as early as 2007.

TEPCO, originally a public utility until it went private in 1951, has enjoyed over half a century of lax government regulation, a default monopoly status in the power industry (and the security that accompanies such a position), and finally an increasingly untouchable image, fortified by every scandal that goes virtually unpunished.Despite its many accidents, TEPCO has managed to shield itself over the years from rigorous investigation and censure. It has done so by wining and dining the Japanese media, spending the equivalent of $294 million in advertising, and hiring retired National Police Agency bureaucrats and former METI officials as “special advisors.” Using political connections, threats, and a complacent press, they have managed to stay in business.

In June of 2000, Kei Sugaoka, a Japanese-American engineer who had worked at the Fukushima reactor one site, blew the whistle on TEPCO’s decades of cover-ups and dangerous practices in a letter to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI).

The letter, which details some of his work at the Fukushima plant as a inspector for GE which helped build the plant, states: “I was performing a visual inspection on the steam dryer (a critical part of the nuclear reactor) at the Fukushima site Unit One for TEPCO… The dryer was inspected and found cracked to the condition to where it was required to be replaced by a new one at an extensive cost to Tokyo Electric Power Company. I have inspected numerous BWR steam dryers and never discovered a dryer damaged to that extent.” Then, the most damning evidence: “We submitted (video) tapes to TEPCO for METI, edited with visual cracking intentionally omitted per TEPCO request.”

Sugaoka refused to comply with the request to edit the tapes himself, noting that this was a criminal offense. “I wasn’t willing to lie. That made me a troublemaker. Lying was standard practice at TEPCO, and maybe for most of the nuclear industry.”

Read the rest of the story here. It keeps getting better!

The Atlantic Wire

Top level from TGR

I have been watching TGR movies for over ten years now and I have always been a fan. They certainly know how to raise the bar! As always TGR puts together a great teaser for the new film “One For the Road” The level of the footage being shot for ski and snowboard movies these days is absolutely incredible! Add to that athletes going for it like never before and it makes for a pretty insane combination. This one certainly requires a few repeated viewings.

Extra clip to check out.

This is not cool at all

Check out this story in the Japan times today!

From the Japan Time on line

Fukushima residents’ urine now radioactive
Kyodo

More than 3 millisieverts of radiation has been measured in the urine of 15 Fukushima residents of the village of Iitate and the town of Kawamata, confirming internal radiation exposure, it was learned Sunday.

Both are about 30 to 40 km from the Fukushima No. 1 power plant, which has been releasing radioactive material into the environment since the week of March 11, when the quake and tsunami caused core meltdowns.

“This won’t be a problem if they don’t eat vegetables or other products that are contaminated,” said Nanao Kamada, professor emeritus of radiation biology at Hiroshima University. “But it will be difficult for people to continue living in these areas.”

Kamada teamed up with doctors including Osamu Saito of Watari Hospital in the city of Fukushima to conduct two rounds of tests on each resident in early and late May, taking urine samples from 15 people between 4 and 77.

Radioactive cesium was found both times in each resident.

Radioactive iodine was logged as high as 3.2 millisieverts in six people in the first survey, but none was found in the second survey.

The data indicate accumulated external exposure was between 4.9 and 13.5 millisieverts, putting the grand total between 4.9 to 14.2 millisieverts over about two months, they said.

“The figures did not exceed the maximum of 20 millisieverts a year, but we want residents to use these results to make decisions (to move),” said Kamada.

Who is really doing the clean up?

Have you ever wondered who is really doing the clean up with at the site of the worlds worst industrial disaster? The Fukushima site is now employing about 2500 people from what I read somewhere. Who are these people? The ones really doing the dirty work, not the high up TEPCO people calling the shots. You know the guys carrying hoses around, the guys opening the doors at reactor number 2, etc., I posted a documentary film about this subject about a month or two ago and since then had been wanting to know more about this very gray subject.

This is a great article that really covers the subject well and includes some heavy statements like this one.

The risks from the radiation hotspots at Fukushima remain considerable. A vent of steam in the No. 1 reactor was found earlier this month to be radioactive enough to kill anyone standing near it for more than an hour.

I am taking the liberty of posting the story here, please follow this link to read the story and more good articles on the original site.

News on Japan


FUKUSHIMA, JAPAN (Reuters) – A decade and a half before it blew apart in a hydrogen blast that punctuated the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl, the No. 3 reactor at the Fukushima nuclear power plant was the scene of an earlier safety crisis.

Then, as now, a small army of transient workers was put to work to try to stem the damage at the oldest nuclear reactor run by Japan’s largest utility.

At the time, workers were racing to finish an unprecedented repair to address a dangerous defect: cracks in the drum-like steel assembly known as the “shroud” surrounding the radioactive core of the reactor.

But in 1997, the effort to save the 21-year-old reactor from being scrapped at a large loss to its operator, Tokyo Electric, also included a quiet effort to skirt Japan’s safety rules: foreign workers were brought in for the most dangerous jobs, a manager of the project said.

“It’s not well known, but I know what happened,” Kazunori Fujii, who managed part of the shroud replacement in 1997, told Reuters. “What we did would not have been allowed under Japanese safety standards.”

The previously undisclosed hiring of welders from the United States and Southeast Asia underscores the way Tokyo Electric, a powerful monopoly with deep political connections in Japan, outsourced its riskiest work and developed a lax safety culture in the years leading to the Fukushima disaster, experts say.

A 9.0 earthquake on March 11 triggered a 15-metre tsunami that smashed into the seaside Fukushima Daiichi plant and set off a series of events that caused its reactors to start melting down.

Hydrogen explosions scattered debris across the complex and sent up a plume of radioactive steam that forced the evacuation of more than 80,000 residents near the plant, about 240 km (150 miles) northeast of Tokyo. Enough radioactive water to fill 40 Olympic swimming pools has also been collected at the plant and threatens to leak into the groundwater.

The repeated failures that have dogged Tokyo Electric in the three months the Fukushima plant has been in crisis have undercut confidence in the response to the disaster and dismayed outside experts, given corporate Japan’s reputation for relentless organisation.

Hastily hired workers were sent into the plant without radiation meters. Two splashed into radioactive water wearing street shoes because rubber boots were not available. Even now, few have been given training on radiation risks that meets international standards, according to their accounts and the evaluation of experts.

The workers who stayed on to try to stabilise the plant in the darkest hours after March 11 were lauded as the “Fukushima 50” for their selflessness. But behind the heroism is a legacy of Japanese nuclear workers facing hazards with little oversight, according to interviews with more than two dozen current and former nuclear workers, doctors and others.

Since the start of the nuclear boom in the 1970s, Japan’s utilities have relied on temporary workers for maintenance and plant repair jobs, the experts said. They were often paid in cash with little training and no follow-up health screening.

This practice has eroded the ability of nuclear plant operators to manage the massive risks workers now face and prompted calls for the Japanese government to take over the Fukushima clean-up effort.

Although almost 9,000 workers have been involved in work around the mangled reactors, Tokyo Electric did not have a Japan-made robot capable of monitoring radiation inside the reactors until this week. That job was left to workers, reflecting the industry’s reliance on cheap labour, critics say.


“I can only think that to the power companies, contract workers are just disposable pieces of equipment,” said Kunio Horie, who worked at nuclear plants, including Fukushima Daiichi, in the late 1970s and wrote about his experience in a book “Nuclear Gypsey.”

Tokyo Electric said this week it cannot find 69 of the more than 3,600 workers who were brought in to Fukushima just after the disaster because their names were never recorded. Others were identified by Tepco in accident reports only by initials: “A-san” or “B-san.”

Makoto Akashi, executive director at the National Institute of Radiological Sciences near Tokyo, said he was shocked to learn Tokyo Electric had not screened some of the earliest workers for radiation inside their bodies until June while others had to share monitors to measure external radiation.

That means health risks for workers – and future costs – will be difficult to estimate.

“We have to admit that we didn’t have an adequate system for checking radiation exposure,” said Goshi Hosono, an official appointed by Prime Minister Naoto Kan to coordinate the response to the crisis.

‘BROAD IS THE ROAD THAT LEADS TO DESTRUCTION’

Fujii, who devoted his career to building Japanese nuclear power plants as a manager with IHI Corporation, was troubled by what he saw at Fukushima in 1997.

Now 72, he remembers falling for “the romance of nuclear power” as a student at Tokyo’s Rikkyo University in the 1960s. “The idea that you could take a substance small enough to fit into a tea cup and produce almost infinite power seemed almost like a dream” he said.

He had asked to oversee part of the job at Fukushima as the last big assignment of his career. He threw himself into the work, heading into the reactor for inspections. “I had a sense of mission,” he said.

As he watched a group of Americans at work in the reactor one day, Fujii jotted down a Bible verse in his diary that captured his angst: “Wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction and many enter through it.”

The basis for nuclear safety regulation is the assumption that cancers, including leukaemia, can be caused years later by exposure to relatively small amounts of radiation, far below the level that would cause immediate sickness. In normal operations, international nuclear workers are limited to an average exposure of 20 millisieverts per year, about 10 times natural background radiation levels.

At Fukushima in 1997, Japanese safety rules were applied in a way that set very low radiation exposure limits on a daily basis, Fujii said. That was a prudent step, safety experts say, but it severely limited what Japanese workers could do on a single shift and increased costs.

The workaround was to bring in foreign workers who would absorb a full-year’s allowable dose of radiation of between 20 millisieverts and 25 millisieverts in just a few days.

“We brought in workers from Southeast Asia and Saudi Arabia who had experience building oil tankers. They took a heavier dose of radiation than Japanese workers could have,” said Fujii, adding that American workers were also hired.

Tokyo Electric would admit five years later it had hid evidence of the extent of the defect in the shroud from regulators. That may have added to the pressure to finish the job quickly. When new cracks were found, they were fixed without a report to regulators, according to disclosures made in 2002

It is not clear if the radiation doses for the foreign workers were recorded on an individual basis or if they have faced any heath problems. Tepco said it had no access to the worker records kept by its subcontractors. IHI said it had no record of the hiring of the foreign workers. Toshiba, another major contractor, also said it could not confirm that foreign workers were hired.

Hosono, the government official overseeing the response to the disaster, said he was not aware of foreign workers being brought in to do repair work in the past and they would not be sent in now.

Now retired outside Tokyo, Fujii said he has come to see nuclear power as an “imperfect technology.”

“This is an unfortunate thing to say, but the nuclear industry has long relied on people at the lowest level of Japanese society,” he said.

PAY-BY-THE-DAY

Since the late 1960s, the Kamagasaki neighbourhood of Osaka has been a dumping ground for men battling drug and alcohol addiction, ex-convicts, and men looking for a construction job with few questions. It has also been a hiring spot for Japan’s nuclear industry for decades.

“Kamagasaki is a place that companies have always come for workers that they can use and then throw away,” said Hiroshi Inagaki, a labour activist.

The nearby Lawson’s store has a sign on its bathroom door warning that anyone trying to flush a used syringe down the toilet will be prosecuted. Peddlers sell scavenged trash, including used shoes and rice cookers. A pair of yakuza enforcers in black shirts and jeans walks the street to collect loans.

The centre of Kamagasaki is an office that connects day labourers with the small construction firms that roll up before dawn in vans and minibuses.

Within a week after the Fukushima disaster, Tepco had engaged Japan’s biggest construction and engineering companies to run the job of trying to bring the plant under control. They in turned hired smaller firms, over 600 of them. That cascade brought the first job offers to Kamagasaki by mid-March.

One hiring notice sought a truck driver for Miyagi, one of the prefectures hit hard by the tsunami. But when an Osaka day labourer in his 60s accepted the job, he was sent instead to Fukushima where he was put to work handling water to cool the No. 5 reactor.

The man, who did not want to be identified, was paid the equivalent of about $300 a day, twice what he was first promised. But he was only issued a radiation metre on his fourth day. Inagaki said the man was seeking a financial settlement from Tokyo Electric. “We think what happened here is illegal,” he said.

Nearby, several men waiting to be hired in Kamagasaki said they had experience working at nuclear plants.

A 58-year-old former member of Japan’s Self Defence Forces from southern Japan who asked to be identified only by his nickname, Jumbo, said he had worked at Tokyo Electric’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa power plant for a two-month job. He knows others who have gone to Fukushima from the hiring line at Kamagasaki, he said.

“We’ve always had nuclear work here, and I would go again,” he said.

THE ABANDONED SPA

In Iwaki, a town south of the Fukushima plant once known for a splashy Hawaiian-themed resort, the souvenir stands and coffee shops are closed or losing money. The drinking spots known as “snacks” are starting to come back as workers far from home seek the company of bar girls.

“It’s becoming like an army base,” said Shukuko Kuzumi, 63, who runs a cake shop across from the main rail station. “There are workers who come here knowing what the work is like, but I think there are many who don’t.”

Each morning, hired workers pile into buses and beat-up vans and set out from the nearly abandoned resort. More men in the standard-issue white work pajamas pour out of the shipping containers turned into temporary housing at the Hirono highway exit where residents have fled and weeds have overgrown the sidewalks.

They gather at a now abandoned soccer complex where Argentina’s soccer team trained during the 2002 World Cup to get

briefed on the tasks for the shifts ahead. They then change into the gear many have come to dread: two or three pairs of gloves, full face masks, goggles and white protective suits. More than a dozen Fukushima workers have collapsed of heat stroke, and the rising heat weighs more heavily on the minds of workers than threat of radiation.

“I don’t know how I’m going to make it if it gets much hotter than this,” a heavyset, 36-year-old Tokyo man said as he stretched out at Hirono after a day of spraying a green resin around the plant to keep radioactive dust from spreading.

The risks from the radiation hotspots at Fukushima remain considerable. A vent of steam in the No. 1 reactor was found earlier this month to be radioactive enough to kill anyone standing near it for more than an hour.

Tokyo Electric has been given a sanction-free reprimand for its handling of radiation exposure at Fukushima. Nine workers have exceeded the emergency exposure limit of 250 millisieverts. Another 115 have exceeded 100 millisieverts of exposure. The two workers with the highest radiation readings topped 600 millisieverts of exposure.

For context, the largest study of nuclear workers to date by the International Agency for Research on Cancer found a risk of roughly two additional fatal cancers for every 100 people exposed to 100 millisieverts of radiation.

But several Fukushima workers say they have been told not to worry about health risks unless they top 100 or near 200 millisieverts of exposure in training by contractors.

Experts say that runs counter to international standards. The International Atomic Energy Agency requires workers in a nuclear emergency to give “informed consent” to the risks they face and that they understand danger exists at even low doses.

Tokyo Electric spokesman Junichi Matsumoto said the utility could not confirm what kind of training smaller firms were providing. “The subcontractors have a responsibility as well,” he said. “I don’t know what kind of briefing they are getting.”

Kim Kearfott, a nuclear engineer and radiation health expert from the University of Michigan who toured Japan in May, said authorities needed to ensure that safety training was handled independently by outside experts.

“The potential for coercion and undue influence over a day labourer audience is high, especially when the training and consent are administered by those who control hiring and firing of workers,” she said.

Tokyo Electric has been challenged before on its training. Mitsuaki Nagao, a plumber who had worked at three plants including Fukushima, said he was never briefed on radiation dangers, and would routinely use another worker’s dosimeter to finish jobs. Some doctors worry that the same under-reporting of radiation could happen at Fukushima as well.

Nagao sued Tokyo Electric when he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a type of bone marrow cancer, in 2004. His lawsuit, one of two known worker cases against a Japanese utility, was rejected by a Tokyo court, which ruled no links had been proven between his radiation and his illness. He died in 2007.

Some doctors are urging Japan’s government to set up a system of health monitoring for the thousands of workers streaming through Fukushima. Some also want to see a standard of care guaranteed.

“This is also a problem of economics,” said Kristin Schrader-Frechette, a Notre Dame University professor and nuclear safety expert. “If Japan wants to know the true costs of nuclear power versus the alternatives, it needs to know what these health care costs are.”
(Editing by Bill Tarrant)

Speaker Series with Shinya!

Shinya Nakagawa original Car Danchi member will be guest speaker in KamiFurano this coming Saturday. He will be talking about his trip to Alaska this spring and his 8th place finish at the King of the Hill contest!

You can follow his blog here.

Shinya Nakagawa

スピーカーズ イン カムイミンタラ 〜「地方」で生きる Vol.1

”アラスカで感じた斜面” 
エクストリームコンペティション King of the Hill とは

ゲストスピーカー
中川 伸也(プロスノーボーダー)

90年代から始まったアラスカのエクスストリーム・スノーボード
の大会 King of the Hill。 一時中断をしていたその大会が
昨年再開され、King of the Hill2011に、東川在住の
プロスノーボーダー中川伸也さんが参加しました。
広大な斜面を落ちるように滑る様子を、写真などを交えながら
中川さんにお話しいただき、アラスカとスノーボードの魅力に
触れたいと思います。

また、世界の山でも活躍する中川さんが、なぜ東川町で暮らすことを
選んだのか、地方で生きることの魅力も合わせてお話しいただきます。 

日 時 6月25日(土曜日)19時~20時30分
内 容 中川伸也さんトーク&スライド
場 所 ファーマーズ・カフェ風土
     東川町東4号北2番地 TEL 0166-82-5443
参加費 500円(ワンドリンク付き マイカップご持参ください)
     ※ 別途軽食販売を行います
定 員 30名 先着受付順とさせていただきます

<お申し込み・問い合わせ>
ファーマーズ・カフェ 風土
TEL   0166-82-5443 
メール fudo.info@gmail.com

_____________________________
スピーカーズ イン カムイミンタラ  ~ 「地方」で生きる とは・・
「暮らす」「食べる」「働く」「遊ぶ」といった日常を切り口に、
「地方」で生きる今を語るゲストを、大雪山麓にある
ファーマーズ・カフェ風土にお呼びする催しです。
私たちが暮らす「まち」の魅力や、ここからどんな未来を
つくることができるかを、ゲストスピーカーのお話を通して、
感じたり考えたり学んだりできる場づくりを目指した企画です。