Monthly Archives: October 2013

Fuk-‘hush’-ima: Japan’s new state secrets law gags whistleblowers, raises press freedom fears

RT News

Published time: October 25, 2013 09:02
Edited time: October 27, 2013 22:19

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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (3RD-L) speaks during a joint-meeting by Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters and Nuclear Power Disaster Management Council at the prime minister’s official residence in Tokyo (AFP Photo)

Many issues of national importance to Japan, probably including the state of the Fukushima power plant, may be designated state secrets under a new draft law. Once signed, it could see whistleblowers jailed for up to 10 years.

Japan has relatively lenient penalties for exposing state secrets compared to many other nations, but that may change with the introduction of the new law. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government has agreed on draft legislation on the issue on Friday and expects the parliament to vote on it during the current session, which ends on December 6.

With a comfortable majority in both chambers, the ruling coalition bloc would see no problems overcoming the opposition. Critics say the new law would give the executive too much power to conceal information from the public and compromise the freedom of the press.

Currently only issues of defense can be designated state secret in Japan, and non-military leakers face a jail term of up to one year. Defense officials may be sentenced to five years for exposing secrets, or 10 years, if the classified information they leaded came from the US military.

The new law would enact harsher punishment to leakers, but more importantly, it would allow government branches other than defense ministry designate information as state secrets. The bill names four categories of ‘special secrets’, which would be covered by protection – defense, diplomacy, counter-terrorism and counter-espionage.

Under the new legislation a ministry may classify information for a five-year term with a possibility of prolongation to up to 30 years. After that a cabinet ruling would be needed for the secret to be treated as such, but there is no limit for how long information may be kept under a lid.

“Basically, this bill raises the possibility that the kind of information about which the public should be informed is kept secret eternally,” Tadaaki Muto, a lawyer and member of a task force on the bill at the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, told Reuters.

“Under the bill, the administrative branch can set the range of information that is kept secret at its own discretion.”

Media watchdogs in Japan fear the bill would allow the government to cover up serious blunders, like the collusion between regulators and utilities, which was a significant factor in the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. The quake- and tsunami-hit nuclear power plant went into meltdown and continues to leak contaminated water as its operator TEPCO failed to contain it.

TEPCO has long been accused of obscuring the crisis and Fukushima. Many details on its development were first published in the media before going to governmental or corporate reports.

Critics of the state secrets bill say it would undermine media’s ability to act as the public’s eye on the actions of the government and whoever it would choose to shield.

“It seems very clear that the law would have a chilling effect on journalism in Japan,” said Lawrence Repeta, a law professor at Meiji University.

JAPAN-NUCLEAR-ACCIDENT

Fukushima Governor Yuhei sato (orange helmet) inspects the spent fuel pool in the unit 4 reactor building of Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant at Okuma town in Fukushima prefecture on October 15, 2013. (AFP Photo/Jiji press)

In a bid to address those concerns the cabinet added a provision to the draft which gives “utmost considerations” to citizens’ right to know and freedom of the press. The addition came at the request of the New Komeito party, the coalition partner of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party. The added provisions also state that news reporting is legitimate if its purpose is to serve the public good and the information is not obtained in unlawful or extremely unjust ways.

The clause is based on the 1970s scandal in Japan, in which a reporter was charged and found guilty of unlawfully obtaining secret information about the government. The reporter, Takichi Nishiyama, revealed a secret US-Japanese pact under which Tokyo paid some $4 million of the cost of transferring Okinawa Island from the US back to Japanese rule in 1972.

Nishiyama’s report, which was revealed to have been truthful in 2000, was based on documents he received from a married Foreign Ministry clerk with whom he had an affair. The scandal ultimately ruined his career and dealt a serious blow to the newspaper he worked for.

Japanese law has no clear definition of what kind of new gathering could be deemed ‘grossly inappropriate’. The bill introduces a jail sentence of up to five years for non-officials, including media professionals, using such methods to obtain information. But it does not clearly state that if a journalist reporting on a state secret is found to have obtained the information legitimately, he or she would not be punished. This has led critics to dismiss the ‘freedom of press’ provisions as political window dressing.

Despite criticisms, the Japanese cabinet insists that the law be adopted promptly. It is needed to the planned establishment of a national security council, which would involve members from different ministries and agencies. The law would protect information exchanged through the new body from being leaked, the government says.

Abe’s party has sought unsuccessfully to enact a harsher law on state secrets in the past. The effort had been given a boost after a leaking of a video in 2010, which showed a collision between a Chinese fishing boat and a Japanese patrol vessel near disputed isles in the East China Sea. The government led by the now-opposition Democratic Party wanted to keep the video under wraps, fearing that its publication would harm the already tense relations with Beijing.

Japan had harsh state secret legislations before and during World War II, so in the post-war period government secrecy has been viewed with suspicion, along with militaristic traditions and other things associated with the Imperial past. Abe’s LDP is among the political circles in Japan, which seek change to some of those policies.

 

License granted for depleted uranium

 

Pentagon pushes for billions to refurbish nuclear bombs

Columnists – Kingston Reif

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists – 25 October 2013

At an estimated cost of more than $11 billion, the life-extension program for the B61 bomb would be the most ambitious and expensive nuclear warhead refurbishment in history. Concerned by this massive (and still growing) cost and skeptical of the need for a program of such breadth, two of the Senate’s appropriations subcommittees—Energy and Water, as well as Defense—slashed allotted spending on it in their respective fiscal 2014 funding bills.

Worried that their favorite refurbishment program is on the ropes, the Pentagon and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) have launched a counteroffensive with an assist from supporters in Congress. The lobbying effort will be on full display on October 29 at a hearing hosted by the House Strategic Forces Subcommittee. It will include testimony in support of the life-extension program from the head of US Strategic Command and high-ranking representatives of the NNSA and the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

The case against the proposed B61 life extension is simple: It is unaffordable, unworkable, and unnecessary. In addition, it is premised on assumptions about demand for nuclear bombs that may no longer be valid 10 years from now, when the program is scheduled to be completed. It would be foolish to spend $11 billion on an overly ambitious overhaul, when the future of at least half the weapons is uncertain and more cost-effective alternatives are available.

The B61 nuclear bomb is a weapon that was first developed in the 1950s and 1960s. It is a gravity bomb, or one that falls from an airplane without any guidance system. Five different variants of the B61 (called “mods” for “modifications”) remain in the stockpile: the non-strategic mods 3, 4, and 10 (the last already slated to be retired) and the strategic mods 7 and 11. Approximately 180 of the mods 3 and 4 are still deployed in Europe in support of NATO commitments. Roughly 200 mod 7s, which are carried by the B-2A bomber, are also believed to be in service.

As currently proposed, the B61 life-extension program would consolidate four different variants of the B61 (the non-strategic mods 3, 4, and 10 and the strategic mod 7) into a single version known as the B61 mod 12. Approximately 400 to 500 mod 12s are scheduled for production and their service life is estimated at 20 years. The mod 12 will also be outfitted with an expensive new guided tail kit, significantly increasing the accuracy of the bomb.

Exploding costs. The NNSA’s cost estimate for the B61 life-extension program has doubled from $4 billion to more than $8 billion in just two years, and its schedule to begin production slipped from 2017 to 2020. As if that weren’t bad enough, a 2012 assessment by the Pentagon’s Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation said that the NNSA’s proposed schedule was still too aggressive, and that the cost could exceed $10 billion and production be delayed until 2021. In addition, the US Air Force would fund the guided tail kit for the weapon, at an estimated cost of more than $1 billion.

According to the NNSA, the implementation of sequestration in fiscal 2013 delayed the program by an additional six months, and by increasing labor expenses, thereby increased the total cost by more than $200 million. On October 16, Congress passed a short-term spending bill that gives the NNSA $900 million (or nearly 11 percent) less than its proposed budget request for fiscal 2014, which began on October 1. If the cut stays in effect for the entire year—highly probable given the current budget gridlock in Congress—such a drastic reduction would further delay and increase the cost of the B61 program, while reducing the resources available to pay for it.

The Pentagon and the NNSA have stated that if the B61 refurbishment does not begin by 2019, some components in the existing weapons could begin to fail. Yet due to sequestration there is little chance that the NNSA can complete its currently proposed scope of work by 2019. The implementation of the first phase of sequestration in fiscal 2013 has already delayed the beginning of production to 2020. A simpler and cheaper life-extension program would be much more likely to be delivered on time and on budget, thus ensuring that US NATO commitments are not put at risk. But the NNSA does not appear to have a Plan B in case the program is significantly delayed. 

Uncertain need for the B61. In cutting the NNSA’s fiscal 2014 budget request of $537 million for the B61 program, the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee stated that it was “concerned that NNSA’s proposed scope of work for extending the life of the B61 bomb is not the lowest cost, lowest risk option that meets military requirements and replaces aging components before they affect weapon performance.” According to the subcommittee, the NNSA could pursue a refurbishment plan that upgrades the different variants of the B61 but does not consolidate them into a single version, a major and unnecessary cost driver of the current proposal. This approach would extend the life of the weapons for roughly as long as the mod 12 would, Congressional staff say, while saving the NNSA an estimated $2 to $3 billion. In addition it would obviate the need for the new $1 billion tail kit.  

Yet another data point in favor of a scaled-back B61 life-extension program is that the US stockpile of nuclear gravity bombs could look radically different a decade from now when the program is scheduled to be completed.

For example, one argument in favor of building the mod 12 is that the United States must continue to deploy a lower-yield B61 in Europe in support of NATO extended-deterrence commitments. However, US President Barack Obama has called for “bold reductions” in the number of US and Russian tactical nuclear warheads in Europe, which could lead to the retirement of the weapons. Moreover, some of the European nations that currently host American B61s on their soil may not build replacements for their existing nuclear-capable aircraft, which could force removal of the bombs. Retirement of mods 3, 4, and 10 would seem to eliminate the need to consolidate four weapons into one, allowing for a less-expensive life-extension program.

The Pentagon and the NNSA’s response to this argument is that the life-extension program is not primarily contingent on the B61’s continued deployment in Europe, and that the mod 12 would still be required to ensure that the B-2A bomber could deliver the weapon. They also claim that failure to complete the mod 12 would force the NNSA to conduct a life-extension program for the B83 strategic nuclear gravity bomb, which has the highest yield of any remaining warhead in the US arsenal (up to 1,200 kilotons).

But all of the available evidence, including previous NNSA planning documents, suggests that the NNSA has been planning to retire the B83, and prior to this year never linked it to the B61 life-extension program. Moreover, the new high-level nuclear weapons policy guidance signed by President Obama in June could reduce the number of strategic gravity bombs that are required for deterrence, allowing for the eventual retirement of the B83.

The proposed B61 life-extension program is premised on the flawed assumption that existing nuclear deterrence requirements will remain in place for the foreseeable future—despite the fact that the President has made it a goal to continue reducing the role of nuclear weapons in US national security policy. This myopic planning is symptomatic of a larger blind spot in American nuclear policy: The Pentagon and the NNSA are planning to rebuild all three legs of the nuclear triad—long-range bombers, intercontinental ballistic missiles, and submarine-launched ballistic missiles—over the next 25 years, at a price tag that could exceed $300 billion. Is it affordable, desirable, or necessary to maintain roughly the same nuclear force structure the United States has had for the last 50 years for the next 50 years? It’s not at all clear that such questions are even being asked within the national security establishment, let alone debated.

The Pentagon and the NNSA’s proposed B61 life-extension program is egregiously over budget and continues to grow even more expensive with each passing day. Given the implementation of sequestration, the NNSA cannot complete the program at its proposed scope by 2019. The logical alternative should be to consider a less-ambitious refurbishment that can be completed on time and on budget and also takes into account the uncertain future of the weapon. The sooner the Pentagon and the NNSA reassess their plans, the better off they and the country will be.  

Kingston Reif is the director of nuclear nonproliferation at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. A recipient of a Marshall Scholarship, he was awarded a prestigious Scoville Peace Fellowship in 2008. He blogs about nuclear weapons policy at Nukes of Hazard.

Some Facts You Should Know About Fukushima

A Letter to All Young Athletes Who Dream of Coming to Tokyo in 2020

September 26, 2013 – Counterpunch

by TAKASHI HIROSE

On September 7, 2013 Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said to the 125th session of the International Olympic Committee, the following:

Some may have concerns about Fukushima. Let me assure you, the situation is under control. It has never done and will never do any damage to Tokyo.

This will surely be remembered as one of the great lies of modern times. In Japan some people call it the “Abesolute Lie”. Believing it, the IOC decided to bring the 2020 Olympics to Tokyo.

Japanese government spokespersons defend Abe’s statement by saying that radiation levels in the Pacific Ocean have not yet exceeded safety standards.

This recalls the old story of the man who jumped off a ten-storey building and, as he passed each storey, could be heard saying, “So far, so good”.

We are talking, remember, about the Pacific Ocean – the greatest body of water on earth, and for all we know, in the universe. Tokyo Electric Power Company – TEPCO – has been pouring water through its melted-down reactor at Fukushima and into the ocean for two and a half years, and so far the Pacific Ocean has been able to dilute that down to below the safety standard. So far so good. But there is no prospect in sight of turning off the water.

Here are eight things you need to know.

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1. In a residential area park in Tokyo, 230 km from Fukushima, the soil was found to have a radiation level of 92,335 Becquerels per square meter. This is a dangerous level, comparable to what is found around Chernobyl ④ zone (the site of a nuclear catastrophe in 1986). One reason this level of pollution is found in the capital is that between Tokyo and Fukushima there are no mountains high enough to block radioactive clouds. In the capital people who understand the danger absolutely avoid eating food produced in eastern Japan.

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2. Inside Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Reactors #1 – #3 the pipes (which had circulated cooling water) are broken, which caused a meltdown. This means the nuclear fuel overheated, melted, and continued to melt anything it touched. Thus it melted through the bottom of the reactor, and then through the concrete floor of the building, and sank into the ground. As mentioned above, for two and a half years TEPCO workers have been desperately pouring water into the reactor, but it is not known whether the water is actually reaching the melted fuel. If a middle-strength earthquake comes, it is likely to destroy totally the already damaged building. And as a matter of fact, in the last two and a half years earthquakes have continued to hit Fukushima. (And as an additional matter of fact, just as this letter was being written Fukushima was hit by another middle-strength earthquake, but it seems that the building held up one more time. So far so good.) Especially dangerous is Reactor #4, where a large amount of nuclear fuel is being held in a pool, like another disaster waiting for its moment.

3. The cooling water being poured into the reactor is now considered the big problem in Japan. Newspapers and TV stations that previously strove to conceal the danger of nuclear power, are now reporting on this danger every day, and criticizing Shinzo Abe for the lie he told the IOC. The issue is that the highly irradiated water is entering and mixing with the ground water, and this leakage can’t be stopped, so it is spilling into the outer ocean. It is a situation impossible to control. In August, 2013 (the month prior to Abe’s IOC speech) within the site of Fukushima Daiichi Reactor, radiation was measured at 8500 micro Sieverts per hour. That is enough to kill anyone who stayed there for a month. This makes it a very hard place for the workers to get anything done. In Ohkuma-machi, the town where the Daiichi Nuclear Reactor is located, the radiation was measured in July, 2013 (two months before Abe’s talk) at 320 micro Sieverts per hour. This level of radiation would kill a person in two and a half years. Thus, over an area many kilometers wide, ghost towns are increasing.

4. For the sake of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, an important fact has been left out from reports that go abroad. Only the fact that irradiated water is leaking onto the surface of the ground around the reactor is reported. But deep under the surface the ground water is also being irradiated, and the ground water flows out to sea and mixes with the seawater through sea-bottom springs. It is too late to do anything about this.

5. If you go to the big central fish market near Tokyo and measure the radiation in the air, it registers at about 0.05 micro Sieverts – a little higher than normal level. But if you measure the radiation near the place where the instrument that measures the radiation of the fish is located, the level is two or three times greater (2013 measurement). Vegetables and fish from around the Tokyo area, even if they are irradiated, are not thrown away. This is because the level established by the Japanese Government for permissible radiation in food – which if exceeded the food must not be sold – is the same as the permissible level of radiation in low-level radioactive wastes. Which is to say, in Japan today, as the entire country has been contaminated, we have no choice but to put irradiated garbage on the dinner table. The distribution of irradiated food is also a problem. Food from near Fukushima will be sent to another prefecture, and then sent on, relabeled as produced in the second prefecture. In particular, food distributed by the major food companies, and food served in expensive restaurants, is almost never tested for radiation.

6. In Japan, the only radiation from Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Reactors that is being measured is the radioactive cesium. However large amounts of strontium 90 and tritium are spreading all over Japan. Strontium and tritium’s radiation consists of beta rays, and are very difficult to measure. However both are extremely dangerous: strontium can cause leukemia, and tritium can cause chromosome disorder.

7. More dangerous still: in order, they say, to get rid of the pollution that has fallen over the wide area of Eastern Japan, they are scraping off the top layer of the soil, and putting it in plastic bags as garbage. Great mountains of these plastic bags, all weather-beaten, are sitting in fields in Eastern Japan subject of course to attack by heavy rain and typhoons. Eventually the plastic will split open and the contents will come spilling out. When that happens, there will be no place left to take them.

8. On 21 September, 2013 (again, as this letter was being composed) the newspaper Tokyo Shimbun reported that Tokyo Governor Naoki Inose said at a press conference that what Abe expressed to the IOC was his intention to get the situation under control. “It is not,” Inose said, “under control now.”

It’s a sad story, but this is the present situation of Japan and of Tokyo. I had loved the Japanese food and this land until the Fukushima accident occurred. But now…

My best wishes for your health and long life.

Takashi Hirose is the author of Fukushima Meltdown: The World’s First Earthquake-Tsunami-Nuclear Disaster (2011) available on Amazon both as a Kindle e-book and a Createspace on-demand book.

Special Report: Help wanted in Fukushima: Low pay, high risks and gangsters

IWAKI | Fri Oct 25, 2013 11:20am EDT

Oct 25 (Reuters) – Tetsuya Hayashi went to Fukushima to take a job at ground zero of the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. He lasted less than two weeks.

Hayashi, 41, says he was recruited for a job monitoring the radiation exposure of workers leaving the plant in the summer of 2012. Instead, when he turned up for work, he was handed off through a web of contractors and assigned, to his surprise, to one of Fukushima’s hottest radiation zones.

He was told he would have to wear an oxygen tank and a double-layer protective suit. Even then, his handlers told him, the radiation would be so high it could burn through his annual exposure limit in just under an hour.

“I felt cheated and entrapped,” Hayashi said. “I had not agreed to any of this.”

When Hayashi took his grievances to a firm on the next rung up the ladder of Fukushima contractors, he says he was fired. He filed a complaint but has not received any response from labor regulators for more than a year. All the eight companies involved, including embattled plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co, declined to comment or could not be reached for comment on his case.

Out of work, Hayashi found a second job at Fukushima, this time building a concrete base for tanks to hold spent fuel rods. His new employer skimmed almost a third of his wages – about $1,500 a month – and paid him the rest in cash in brown paper envelopes, he says. Reuters reviewed documents related to Hayashi’s complaint, including pay envelopes and bank statements.

Hayashi’s hard times are not unusual in the estimated $150-billion effort to dismantle the Fukushima reactors and clean up the neighboring areas, a Reuters examination found.

In reviewing Fukushima working conditions, Reuters interviewed more than 80 workers, employers and officials involved in the unprecedented nuclear clean-up. A common complaint: the project’s dependence on a sprawling and little scrutinized network of subcontractors – many of them inexperienced with nuclear work and some of them, police say, have ties to organized crime.

Tepco sits atop a pyramid of subcontractors that can run to seven or more layers and includes construction giants such as Kajima Corp and Obayashi Corp in the first tier. The embattled utility remains in charge of the work to dismantle the damaged Fukushima reactors, a government-subsidized job expected to take 30 years or more.

Outside the plant, Japan’s “Big Four” construction companies – Kajima, Obayashi, Shimizu Corp and Taisei Corp – oversee hundreds of small firms working on government-funded contracts to remove radioactive dirt and debris from nearby villages and farms so evacuees can return home.

Tokyo Electric, widely known as Tepco, says it has been unable to monitor subcontractors fully but has taken steps to limit worker abuses and curb the involvement of organized crime.

“We sign contracts with companies based on the cost needed to carry out a task,” Masayuki Ono, a general manager for nuclear power at Tepco, told Reuters. “The companies then hire their own employees taking into account our contract. It’s very difficult for us to go in and check their contracts.”

The unprecedented Fukushima nuclear clean-up both inside and outside the plant faces a deepening shortage of workers. There are about 25 percent more openings than applicants for jobs in Fukushima prefecture, according to government data.

Raising wages could draw more workers but that has not happened, the data shows. Tepco is under pressure to post a profit in the year to March 2014 under a turnaround plan Japan’s top banks recently financed with $5.9 billion in new loans and refinancing. In 2011, in the wake of the disaster, Tepco cut pay for its own workers by 20 percent.

With wages flat and workers scarce, labor brokers have stepped into the gap, recruiting people whose lives have reached a dead end or who have trouble finding a job outside the disaster zone.

The result has been a proliferation of small firms – many unregistered. Some 800 companies are active inside the Fukushima plant and hundreds more are working in the decontamination effort outside its gates, according to Tepco and documents reviewed by Reuters.

Tepco, Asia’s largest listed power utility, had long enjoyed close ties to regulators and lax government oversight. That came under harsh scrutiny after a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and a massive tsunami hit the plant on March 11, 2011. The disaster triggered three reactor meltdowns, a series of explosions and a radiation leak that forced 150,000 people to flee nearby villages.

Tepco’s hapless efforts since to stabilize the situation have been like someone playing “whack-a-mole”, Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Toshimitsu Motegi has said.

‘NUCLEAR GYPSIES’

Hayashi is one of an estimated 50,000 workers who have been hired so far to shut down the nuclear plant and decontaminate the towns and villages nearby. Thousands more will have to follow. Some of the workers will be needed to maintain the system that cools damaged fuel rods in the reactors with thousands of tonnes (1 tonne = 1.102 metric tons) of water every day. The contaminated runoff is then transferred to more than 1,000 tanks, enough to fill more than 130 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Dismantling the Fukushima Daiichi plant will require maintaining a job pool of at least 12,000 workers just through 2015, according to Tepco’s blueprint. That compares to just over 8,000 registered workers now. In recent months, some 6,000 have been working inside the plant.

The Tepco hiring estimate does not include the manpower required for the government’s new $330 million plan to build a massive ice wall around the plant to keep radiated water from leaking into the sea.

“I think we should really ask whether they are able to do this while ensuring the safety of the workers,” said Shinichi Nakayama, deputy director of safety research at the Japan Atomic Energy Agency.

Japan’s nuclear industry has relied on cheap labor since the first plants, including Fukushima, opened in the 1970s. For years, the industry has rounded up itinerant workers known as “nuclear gypsies” from the Sanya neighborhood of Tokyo and Kamagasaki in Osaka, areas known for large numbers of homeless men.

“Working conditions in the nuclear industry have always been bad,” said Saburo Murata, deputy director of Osaka’s Hannan Chuo Hospital. “Problems with money, outsourced recruitment, lack of proper health insurance – these have existed for decades.”

The Fukushima project has magnified those problems. When Japan’s parliament approved a bill to fund decontamination work in August 2011, the law did not apply existing rules regulating the construction industry. As a result, contractors working on decontamination have not been required to disclose information on management or undergo any screening.

That meant anyone could become a nuclear contractor overnight. Many small companies without experience rushed to bid for contracts and then often turned to brokers to round up the manpower, according to employers and workers.

The resulting influx of workers has turned the town of Iwaki, some 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the plant, into a bustling labor hub at the front line of the massive public works project.

In extreme cases, brokers have been known to “buy” workers by paying off their debts. The workers are then forced to work until they pay off their new bosses for sharply reduced wages and under conditions that make it hard for them to speak out against abuses, labor activists and workers in Fukushima said.

Lake Barrett, a former U.S. nuclear regulator and an advisor to Tepco, says the system is so ingrained it will take time to change.

“There’s been a century of tradition of big Japanese companies using contractors, and that’s just the way it is in Japan,” he told Reuters. “You’re not going to change that overnight just because you have a new job here, so I think you have to adapt.”

A Tepco survey from 2012 showed nearly half of the workers at Fukushima were employed by one contractor but managed by another. Japanese law prohibits such arrangements, in order to prevent brokers from skimming workers’ wages.

Tepco said the survey represents one of the steps it has taken to crack down on abuses. “We take issues related to inappropriate subcontractors very seriously,” the utility said in a statement to Reuters.

Tepco said it warns its contractors to respect labor regulations. The company said it has established a hotline for workers, and has organized lectures for subcontractors to raise awareness on labor regulations. In June, it introduced compulsory training for new workers on what constitutes illegal employment practices.

Tepco does not publish average hourly wages in the plant. Workers interviewed by Reuters said wages could be as low as around $6 an hour, but usually average around $12 an hour – about a third lower than the average in Japan’s construction industry.

Workers for subcontractors in the most-contaminated area outside the plant are supposed to be paid an additional government-funded hazard allowance of about $100 per day, although many report it has not been paid.

The work in the plant can also be dangerous. Six workers in October were exposed to radioactive water when one of them detached a pipe connected to a treatment system. In August, 12 workers were irradiated when removing rubble from around one of the reactors. The accidents prompted Japan’s nuclear regulator to question whether Tepco has been delegating too much.

“Proper oversight is important in preventing careless mistakes. Right now Tepco may be leaving it all up to the subcontractors,” said the head of Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority, Shunichi Tanaka in response to the recent accidents.

Tepco said it will take measures to ensure that such accidents are not repeated. The utility said it monitors safety with spot inspections and checks on safeguards for workers when projects are divided between subcontractors.

The NRA, which is primarily charged with reactor safety, is only one of several agencies dealing with the Fukushima project: the ministries of labor, environment, trade and economy are also responsible for managing the clean-up and enforcing regulations, along with local authorities and police.

Yousuke Minaguchi, a lawyer who has represented Fukushima workers, says Japan’s government has turned a blind eye to the problem of worker exploitation. “On the surface, they say it is illegal. But in reality they don’t want to do anything. By not punishing anyone, they can keep using a lot of workers cheaply.”

Economy Minister Motegi, who is responsible for Japan’s energy policy and decommissioning of the plant, instructed Tepco to improve housing for workers. He has said more needs to be done to ensure workers are being treated well.

“To get work done, it’s necessary to cooperate with a large number of companies,” he told Reuters. “Making sure that those relations are proper, and that work is moving forward is something we need to keep working on daily.”

FALSIFIED PASSBOOK

Hayashi offers a number of reasons for his decision to head to Fukushima from his home in Nagano, an area in central Japan famous for its ski slopes, where in his youth Hayashi honed his snowboarding skills.

He says he was skeptical of the government’s early claim that the Fukushima plant was under control and wanted to see it for himself. He had worked in construction, knew how to weld and felt he could contribute.

Like many other workers, Hayashi was initially recruited by a broker. He was placed with RH Kogyo, a subcontractor six levels removed from Tepco.

When he arrived in Fukushima, Hayashi received instructions from five other firms in addition to the labor broker and RH Kogyo. It was the sixth contractor up the ladder, ABL Co. Ltd that told him he would be working in a highly radioactive area. ABL Co reported to Tokyo Energy & Systems Inc, which in Fukushima manages some 200 workers as a first-tier contractor under Tepco.

Hayashi says he kept copies of his work records and took pictures and videos inside the plant, encouraged by a TV journalist he had met before beginning his assignment. At one point, his boss from RH Kogyo told him not to worry because any radiation he was exposed to would not “build up”.

“Once you wait a week, the amount of radiation goes down by half,” the man is seen telling him in one of the recordings. The former supervisor declined to comment.

The statement represents a mistaken account of radiation safety standards applied in Fukushima, which are based on the view that there is no such thing as a safe dose. Workers are limited to 100 millisieverts of radiation exposure over five years. The International Atomic Energy Agency says exposure over that threshold measurably raises the risk of later cancers.

After Hayashi’s first two-week stint at the plant ended, he discovered his nuclear passbook – a record of radiation exposure – had been falsified to show he had been an employee of larger firms higher up the ladder of contractors, not RH Kogyo.

Reuters reviewed the passbook and documents related to Hayashi’s employment. The nuclear passbook shows that Hayashi was employed by Suzushi Kogyo from May to June 2012. It says Take One employed Hayashi for ten days in June 2012. Hayashi says that is false because he had a one-year contract with RH Kogyo.

“My suspicion is that they falsified the records to hide the fact that they had outsourced my employment,” Hayashi said.

ABL Co. said Hayashi had worked with the firm but declined to comment on his claims. Tepco, Tokyo Energy & Systems, Suzushi Kogyo and RH Kogyo also declined to comment. Take One could not be reached for comment.

In September 2012, Hayashi found another job with a subcontractor for Kajima, one of Japan’s largest construction companies. He didn’t want to go back home empty-handed and says he thought he might have been just unlucky with his first bad experience at the plant.

Instead, his problems continued. This time a broker who recruited several workers for the subcontractor insisted on access to his bank account and then took almost a third of the roughly $160 Hayashi was supposed to be earning each day, Hayashi says.

The broker, according to Hayashi, identified himself as a former member of a local gang from Hayashi’s native Nagano.

Ryo Goshima, 23, said the same broker from Nagano placed him in a crew doing decontamination work and then skimmed almost half of what he had been promised. Goshima and Hayashi became friends in Fukushima when they wound up working for the same firm.

Goshima said he was fired in December after complaining about the skimming practice. Tech, the contractor that had employed him, said it had fired another employee who was found to have skimmed Goshima’s wages. Tech said Goshima left for personal reasons. The firm paid Goshima back wages, both sides say. The total payment was $9,000, according to Goshima.

Kajima spokesman Atsushi Fujino said the company was not in a position to comment on either of the cases since it did not have a contract with Hayashi or Goshima.

“We pay the companies who work for us and instruct those companies to pay the hazard allowance,” the Kajima spokesman said in a statement.

THE YAKUZA CONNECTION

The complexity of Fukushima contracts and the shortage of workers have played into the hands of the yakuza, Japan’s organized crime syndicates, which have run labor rackets for generations.

Nearly 50 gangs with 1,050 members operate in Fukushima prefecture dominated by three major syndicates – Yamaguchi-gumi, Sumiyoshi-kai and Inagawa-kai, police say.

Ministries, the companies involved in the decontamination and decommissioning work, and police have set up a task force to eradicate organized crime from the nuclear clean-up project. Police investigators say they cannot crack down on the gang members they track without receiving a complaint. They also rely on major contractors for information.

In a rare prosecution involving a yakuza executive, Yoshinori Arai, a boss in a gang affiliated with the Sumiyoshi-kai, was convicted of labor law violations. Arai admitted pocketing around $60,000 over two years by skimming a third of wages paid to workers in the disaster zone. In March a judge gave him an eight-month suspended sentence because Arai said he had resigned from the gang and regretted his actions.

Arai was convicted of supplying workers to a site managed by Obayashi, one of Japan’s leading contractors, in Date, a town northwest of the Fukushima plant. Date was in the path of the most concentrated plume of radiation after the disaster.

A police official with knowledge of the investigation said Arai’s case was just “the tip of the iceberg” in terms of organized crime involvement in the clean-up.

A spokesman for Obayashi said the company “did not notice” that one of its subcontractors was getting workers from a gangster.

“In contracts with our subcontractors we have clauses on not cooperating with organized crime,” the spokesman said, adding the company was working with the police and its subcontractors to ensure this sort of violation does not happen again.

In April, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare sanctioned three companies for illegally dispatching workers to Fukushima. One of those, a Nagasaki-based company called Yamato Engineering, sent 510 workers to lay pipe at the nuclear plant in violation of labor laws banning brokers. All three companies were ordered by labor regulators to improve business practices, records show.

In 2009, Yamato Engineering was banned from public works projects because of a police determination that it was “effectively under the control of organized crime,” according to a public notice by the Nagasaki-branch of the land and transport ministry. Yamato Engineering had no immediate comment.

Goshima said he himself had been working for the local chapter of Yamaguchi-gumi since the age of 14, extorting money and collecting debts. He quit at age 20 after spending some time in jail. He had to borrow money from a loan shark to pay off his gang, which demanded about $2,000 a month for several months to let him go.

“My parents didn’t want any problems from the gang, so they told me to leave and never return,” Goshima said. He went to Fukushima looking for a well-paying job to pay down the debt – and ended up working for a yakuza member from his home district.

DECONTAMINATION COMPLAINTS

In towns and villages around the plant in Fukushima, thousands of workers wielding industrial hoses, operating mechanical diggers and wearing dosimeters to measure radiation have been deployed to scrub houses and roads, dig up topsoil and strip trees of leaves in an effort to reduce background radiation so that refugees can return home.

Hundreds of small companies have been given contracts for this decontamination work. Nearly 70 percent of those surveyed in the first half of 2013 had broken labor regulations, according to a labor ministry report in July. The ministry’s Fukushima office had received 567 complaints related to working conditions in the decontamination effort in the year to March. It issued 10 warnings. No firm was penalized.

One of the firms that has faced complaints is Denko Keibi, which before the disaster used to supply security guards for construction sites.

Denko Keibi managed 35 workers in Tamura, a village near the plant. At an arbitration session in May that Reuters attended, the workers complained they had been packed five to a room in small cabins. Dinner was typically a bowl of rice and half a pepper or a sardine, they said. When a driver transporting workers flipped their van on an icy road in December, supervisors ordered workers to take off their uniforms and scatter to distant hospitals, the workers said. Denko Keibi had no insurance for workplace accidents and wanted to avoid reporting the crash, they said.

“We were asked to come in and go to work quickly,” an executive of Denko Keibi said, apologizing to the workers, who later won compensation of about $6,000 each for unpaid wages. “In hindsight, this is not something an amateur should have gotten involved in.”

In the arbitration session Reuters attended, Denko Keibi said there had been problems with working conditions but said it was still examining what happened in the December accident.

The Denko Keibi case is unusual because of the large number of workers involved, the labor union that won the settlement said. Many workers are afraid to speak out, often because they have to keep paying back loans to their employers.

“The workers are scared to sue because they’re afraid they will be blacklisted,” said Mitsuo Nakamura, a former day laborer who runs a group set up to protect Fukushima workers. “You have to remember these people often can’t get any other job.”

Hayashi’s experiences at the plant turned him into an activist. He was reassigned to a construction site outside Tokyo by his second employer after he posted an online video about his first experiences in the plant in late 2012. After a tabloid magazine published a story about Hayashi, his managers asked him to leave. He has since moved to Tokyo and filed a complaint with the labor standards office. He volunteered in the successful parliamentary campaign of former actor turned anti-nuclear activist, Taro Yamamoto.

“Major contractors that run this system think that workers will always be afraid to talk because they are scared to lose their jobs,” said Hayashi. “But Japan can’t continue to ignore this problem forever.”

(Additional reporting by Kevin Krolicki, Sophie Knight and Chris Meyers in Tokyo and Yoshiyuki Osada in Osaka; Editing By Bill Tarrant)

A farce in Koodankulam during PM’s visit to Russia?

Dianuke.org – P.K. Sundaram – October 24, 2013

At the unearthly hour of 2.45 am, the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited(NPCIL) decided to connect Koodankulam reactor-I to the grid. Was the timing decided by some vaastu-experts, as happens often in supposedly high-tech projects in this country of gold-diggers, or to coincide with Manmohan Singh’s timing in Russia? While one can keep guessing on that, the whole exercise has exposed the nuclear establishment’s lies, inefficiencies and dangerous misadventures.

Koodankulam-marine-life

Even before the jubilations in the media could settle, we learnt that that Koodankulam reactor tripped and had to be stopped. While the NPCIL has claimed it was a ‘routine’ and the process will be re-started after tests and electricity production in Koodankulam will be gradually increased to the full capacity of 1000MWs, the Southern Regional Load Despatch Centre (SRLDC)’s in its offical report clearly said that there was a secondary system failure after being synchronised for the first time at 2.45am and the power plant “tripped due to reverse power.”

Evidently, there is something more to the story than the normal start-up troubles. As recently as on October 16th, the NPCIL had said two condensers had valve problems and had got stuck, and KKNPP-I be synchronised in November after attaining 400MW production capacity. On Tuesday, they synchronised the reactor tothe lectricity grid on just 160MW. Some media sources have even reported the output to be just 75MWs. What made the NPCIL hurriedly sync the reactor then?

The Indian PM was on a trip to Russia and the government would have felt that at least announcing synchronisation of KKNPP-I would provide some boost in the face of failure to finalise the agreement on Koodankulam 3 and 5. Like the US and french nuclear corporates, the Russian firm Atomsroyexport is not ready to abide by India’s Nuclear Liability Act on 2010 which mandates the operator’s “right of recourse” against the supplier. This liability issue and the high cost of Russian reactors seems to have prevented any final agreement between the two countries. The Russian President announced with fanfare on Tuesday that Koodankulam will be connected to the grid “within few hours”. He was reported saying that the reactor will start producing 300MWs of electricity- double the ammount announced by the NPCIL at home. The Indian PM had a sigh of relief as he had promised Putin, way back in his December 2012 trip to India, that Koodankulam-I will be started “within 2 weeks.” The start-up of Koodankulam has been an unending saga of such 15 days promises by the NPCIL, Mr. Narayansamy and the PM himself.

However, the tripping of Koodankulam-I implies much more more than just a hurried attempt to provide a symbolic great moment to the PM’s visit. It exposes the hollowness of the claims of the NPCIL experts that the repeated delays are a result of their “Quest for perfection” in safety. Extremely crucially components like valves have been repeatedly found defective and trouble-prone in Koodankulam and have delayed the commissioning. This proves the worst fears that have been brushed aside in India’s anachronistic nuclear pursuit: the Russian nuclear supplier Zio-Podolsk’s Director Sergei Shutov is in jail for a huge scam involving supply of sub-standard equipments in the batches that were supplied to India, China, Iran and other countries over past several years.

The petitioners in Koodankulam case in the Supreme Court did raise this issue but the court reposed faith in the NPCIL for judging on such technical issues. The NPCIL and the inherent secretive nature of nuclear industry has not allowed much of independent nuclclear expertise in India to flourish and perhaps the judges also did not have much choice. As a result, the NPCIL misled the court even on basic issues: it has no expertise on PWR-type reactors in Koodankulam and it passed off the AERB safety manuels related to a totally different deisgn – PHWRs – as a proof of its dilligence and sincerety. Similarly, several other very crucial questions were overlooked: the non-adherence of reccomendations of the post-Fukushima safety review, non-availability of adequate water supply in Koodankulam, exemption of nuclear liability for Koodankulam-I, and non-adherence to Environment Impact Assessement and Coastal Regulatory Zone stipulations on flimsy ground that these stipulations came into existence after the reactor project was started!

Far from being a product of a holistic policy for the country’s energy needs and its suitable solutions, India’s nuclear pursuit is based on international agreements animated by pursuit of legitimacy for its nuclear weapons and ensuring seat on the high table in exchange for nuclear purchase offers. There is an unmissable pattern: environmental clearance for Jaitapur was given ion 2010 when the then French President Nicholas Sarkozy was visiting India, Nuclear Liability Act was hastily finalised during Hilary Clinton’s visit, liability exemption for Mithi Virdi project in Gujarat during Manmohan Singh’s visit to US last month and a shodily done synchronisation of Koodankulam-I during the PM’s visit to Kremlin. In the form of nuclear energy deals, livelihoods and lives of its own people have become international bargaining chips for the government. Much like the country’s other resources – mines, rivers, forests, food, health or education, that the Indian ruling eliteis happily offering at the altar of its own brand of ‘development.’

We must not forget that Fukushima nuclear accident has taken a much worse turn in Japan in last few months and it has been forced to shut down again the two out of 54 reactors that were re-started after a complete close down after the accident in March 2011. The industry-regulator-politics nexus stands exposed in an advanced country like India and the lesson being drawn is that nuclear plants simply cannot be run in transparent and safe manner. The stress-tests following Fukushima have forced full or partial reversal of nuclear projects in many countries and international surveys have reported wide-spread popular disapproval of nuclear industry. On the countrary, India sent psychologists in Koodankulam to ‘counsel’ the protesters and slapped sedition charges of colonial vintage when that didn’t work. Thousands of activists and villagers in Tamil nadu continue to face fictitious criminal charges which the Supreme Court ordered to remove in its judgement. India’s democracy and safety are threated by an ill-concieved, unsafe, expensive, non-transparent and unaccountable nuclear expansion plan.

The author is Research Consultant with the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace(CNDP) and can be contacted at pksundaram@gmail.com

Westerse inzet van nucleaire onderhandelingen met Iran vereist andere benadering

Amsterdam, 24 oktober 2013 – Henk van der Keur – stichting Laka

De Amerikaanse eis dat Iran zijn activiteiten voor het verrijken van uranium moet beëindigen stamt nog uit het tijdperk van de regering Bush. In de periode 2003-2005 schortte de Iraanse regering geheel vrijwillig haar verrijkingsprogramma op en bood het ook aan om in de toekomst strenge beperkingen op het verrijken van uranium te aanvaarden. Dat aanbod was voor de regering Bush niet voldoende. In plaats daarvan eiste het dat de uraniumverrijking permanent werd stopgezet, waardoor de door Europa geleide onderhandelingen al snel stuk liepen. Zoals bekend heeft de houding van de Amerikanen contraproductief uitgepakt. De huidige verrijkingscapaciteit van Iran is aanzienlijk groter dan wat de Iraanse regering aanvankelijk zelf had voorgesteld in een compromisvoorstel aan het Westen.

Zo lang het Westen erop blijft hameren dat Iran zijn uraniumverrijkingsinstallaties moet sluiten, zal er geen doorbraak komen in de nucleaire onderhandelingen. Het is een illusie te denken dat Iran als ondertekenaar van het non-proliferatieverdrag (NPV) afstand zal doen van zijn onvervreemdbare recht op uraniumverrijking. Bovendien is het, technisch gezien, helemaal niet nodig om zo’n eis – feitelijk een strafmaatregel – te stellen. Er zijn betere manieren om ervoor te zorgen dat Iran op het rechte pad blijft.

De veronderstelling dat Iran zijn verrijkingsfabrieken in het geheim zou gebruiken voor het maken van kernwapens is wijdverbreid. Wat hierbij over het hoofd wordt gezien, is dat deze verrijkingsfabrieken en de andere kerninstallaties van Iran al sinds de dag van hun inwerkingtreding onder toezicht staan van het Internationaal Atoomenergie Agentschap (IAEA). Net als vijf andere landen – Brazilië, Argentinië, Duitsland, Japan en Nederland – die uranium verrijken, maar geen kernwapens hebben, heeft Iran te maken met strenge inspecties van het IAEA die moeten verhinderen dat Iran kernwapens kan ontwikkelen. Ofschoon sceptici in Washington lichtvaardig beweren dat voor Iran andere maatstaven gelden, is het goed te beseffen dat de eerste drie van de vijf vermelde landen ooit kernwapens nastreefden. Bij Brazilië en Argentinië – voorbeelden van na de Tweede Wereldoorlog – had de succesvolle preventie niet de vernietiging van hun kerninstallaties tot gevolg, maar werd er gekozen voor betere opties. Eenzelfde benadering moet ook worden gekozen voor Iran.

De vraag of IAEA-inspecties volstaan is een legitieme vraag, maar betreft een zorg die beheersbaar is. In het debat over de snelheid waarmee Iran hoog verrijkt uranium kan maken, het kan omzetten in weapons-grade componenten, en in een wapen kan plaatsen dat het kernexplosief draagt, wordt er automatisch van uitgegaan dat Iran de niet-nucleaire onderdelen van het wapen al heeft gemaakt, in elkaar gezet, en getest. Maar geen van deze drie onderdelen in die aanname zijn juist. Ook wordt ten onrechte aangenomen dat de waarborgingsprocedures van het IAEA niet voldoende zijn afgestemd op nader (‘real time’) toezicht als er praktijken plaatsvinden die reden geven tot zorg. Het waarborgingsregime kan wel degelijk worden aangepast. Zo heeft het IAEA bijvoorbeeld speciale maatregelen ingesteld bij de opwerkingsfabriek Rokkasho in Japan om zeker te stellen dat het plutonium dat geproduceerd wordt niet wordt aangewend voor militair gebruik. Soortgelijke maatregelen kunnen ook worden genomen bij de verrijkingsfabrieken in Iran. Er is geen enkele reden waarom Iran een andere behandeling zou verdienen dan de andere vijf niet-kernwapenstaten die uranium verrijken.

Dit artikel is ook verschenen op de opiniepagina (“het laatste woord”) van het Parool van donderdag 24 oktober 2013 onder de titel “Iran is zeker nog geen kernmacht.”