AP: Where Japan’s Post-Fukushima rebuild cash really went: Corruption and coverup on grand scale in a crisis that even TEPCO admits “could have been avoided”


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Hi Blog. This story has hit a lot of newspapers worldwide.  I’ll just blog the first article I saw, and other Debito.org Readers who find articles that cover points not mentioned here can add them to the Comments Section.

For all the talk we have had in the past of Japan’s efficient government and incorruptible bureaucracy (dating from, oh, perhaps Chalmers’ MITI AND THE JAPANESE MIRACLE — even Transparency International still ranks Japan higher than say, oh, the US, France, or Spain in its “Corruption Perceptions Index 2011”), one major factor that not only despirits a nation but also steals its wherewithal is an unaccountable administrative branch robbing the public coffers blind.  In this case, the GOJ is reportedly siphoning off disaster funds that had been earmarked to save people’s lives and livelihoods and diverted to support completely unrelated projects.

The news below goes beyond the fact that TEPCO and the GOJ have finally admitted their collusion to cover up their malfeasance in preventing the nuclear meltdown (article archived below — note that the investigative committee was led by a NJ).  It shows, as Debito.org first mentioned back in December 2011 (and repeated in a different incarnation last July) that our first “see I told you so” moment (where even our critics would not capitulate for being wrong about corruption and coverup) stating that Japan’s control-freak governance system in Japan is irredeemably broken, was ever more right all along.

And more Japanese elites, as I am hearing through as-yet inconclusively-researched channels, are moving overseas to set up transplant Japanese communities away from this strangler-fig bureaucracy.  More on that later if we get something conclusive.  Arudou Debito


Where Japan’s rebuild cash really went
Associated Press/The New Zealand Herald, Wednesday Oct 31, 2012

About a quarter of the US$148 billion budget for reconstruction after Japan’s March 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster has been spent on unrelated projects, including subsidies for a contact lens factory and research whaling.

The findings of a government audit buttress complaints over shortcomings and delays in the reconstruction effort. More than half the budget is yet to be disbursed, stalled by indecision and bureaucracy, while nearly all of the 340,000 people evacuated from the disaster zone remain uncertain whether, when and how they will ever resettle.

Many of the non-reconstruction-related projects loaded into the 11.7 trillion yen budget were included on the pretext they might contribute to Japan’s economic revival, a strategy that the government now acknowledges was a mistake.

“It is true that the government has not done enough and has not done it adequately. We must listen to those who say the reconstruction should be the first priority,” Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said in a speech to parliament on Monday.

He vowed that unrelated projects will be “strictly wrung out” of the budget.

But ensuring that funds go to their intended purpose might require an explicit change in the reconstruction spending law, which authorizes spending on such ambiguous purposes as creating eco-towns and supporting “employment measures.”

Among the unrelated projects benefiting from the reconstruction budgets are: road building in distant Okinawa; prison vocational training in other parts of Japan; subsidies for a contact lens factory in central Japan; renovations of government offices in Tokyo; aircraft and fighter pilot training, research and production of rare earths minerals, a semiconductor research project and even funding to support whaling, ostensibly for research, according to data from the government audit released last week.

A list of budget items and spending shows some 30 million yen went to promoting the Tokyo Sky Tree, a transmission tower that is the world’s tallest freestanding broadcast structure. Another 2.8 billion yen was requested by the Justice Ministry for a publicity campaign to “reassure the public” about the risks of big disasters.

Masahiro Matsumura, a politics professor at St. Andrews University in Osaka, Japan, said justifying such misuse by suggesting the benefits would “trickle down” to the disaster zone is typical of the political dysfunction that has hindered Japan’s efforts to break out of two decades of debilitating economic slump.

“This is a manifestation of government indifference to rehabilitation. They are very good at making excuses,” Matsumura told The Associated Press.

Near the crippled Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant, which suffered the additional blow from the worst nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, recovery work has barely begun.

More than 325,000 of the 340,000 people evacuated from the disaster zone or forced to flee the areas around the nuclear plant after the March 11, 2011, disaster remain homeless or away from their homes, according to the most recent figures available.

In Rikuzentakata, a fishing enclave where 1,800 people were killed or went missing as the tsunami scoured the harbor, rebuilding has yet to begin in earnest, says Takashi Kubota, who left a government job in Tokyo in May 2011 to become the town’s deputy mayor.

The tsunami destroyed 3,800 of Rikuzentakata’s 9,000 homes. The first priority, he says, has been finding land for rebuilding homes on higher ground. For now, most evacuees are housed, generally unhappily, in temporary shelters in school playgrounds and sports fields.

“I can sum it up in two words speed and flexibility that are lacking,” Kubota said. Showing a photo of the now non-existent downtown area, he said, “In 19 months, there have basically been no major changes. There is not one single new building yet.”

The government has pledged to spend 23 trillion yen over this decade on reconstruction and disaster prevention, 19 trillion yen of it within five years.

But more than half the reconstruction budget remains unspent, according to the government’s audit report.

The dithering is preventing the government, whose debt is already twice the size of the country’s GDP, from getting the most bang for every buck.

“You’ve got economic malaise and political as well. That’s just a recipe for disaster,” said Matthew Circosta, an economist with Moody’s Analytics in Sydney.

Part of the problem is the central government’s strategy of managing the reconstruction from Tokyo instead of delegating it to provincial governments. At the same time, the local governments lack the staff and expertise for such major rebuilding.

The government “thinks it has to be in the driver’s seat,” Jun Iio, a government adviser and professor at Tokyo University told a conference in Sendai. “Unfortunately the reconstruction process is long and only if the local residents can agree on a plan will they move ahead on reconstruction.”

“It is in this stage that creativity is needed for rebuilding,” he said.

Even Sendai, a regional capital of over 1 million people much better equipped than most coastal communities to deal with the disaster, still has mountains of rubble. Much of it is piled amid the bare foundations, barren fields and broken buildings of its oceanside suburb of Arahama.

Sendai quickly restored disrupted power, gas and water supplies and its tsunami-swamped airport. The area’s crumbled expressways and heavily damaged railway lines were repaired within weeks.

But farther north and south, ravaged coastal towns remain largely unoccupied.

More than 240 ports remain unbuilt; in many cases their harbors are treacherous with tsunami debris.

Like many working on the disaster, Yoshiaki Kawata of Kansai University worries that the slow progress on reconstruction will leave the region, traditionally one of Japan’s poorest, without a viable economy.

“There is almost no one on the streets,” he said in the tiny fishing hamlet of Ryoishi, where the sea rose 17 metres. “Building a new town will take many years.”

Even communities remain divided over how to rebuild. Moving residential areas to higher ground involves cumbersome bureaucratic procedures and complicated ownership issues. Each day of delay, meanwhile, raises the likelihood that residents will leave and that local businesses will fail to recover, says Itsunori Onodera, a lawmaker from the port town of Kesennuma, which lost more than 1,400 people in the disaster.

“Speed,” he says, is the thing most needed to get the region back on its feet. -AP



By Mari Yamaguchi, Associated Press
NATIONAL OCT. 13, 2012, courtesy of JDG

TOKYO — The utility behind Japan’s nuclear disaster acknowledged for the first time Friday that it could have avoided the crisis.

Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) said in a statement that it had known safety improvements were needed before last year’s tsunami triggered three meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, but it had feared the political, economic and legal consequences of implementing them.

“When looking back on the accident, the problem was that preparations were not made in advance,” TEPCO’s internal reform task force, led by company President Naomi Hirose, said in the statement. “Could necessary measures have been taken with previous tsunami evaluations? It was possible to take action” by adopting more extensive safety measures, the task force said.

The task force said TEPCO had feared efforts to better protect nuclear facilities from severe accidents such as tsunamis would trigger anti-nuclear sentiment, interfere with operations or increase litigation risks. TEPCO could have mitigated the impact of the accident if it had diversified power and cooling systems by paying closer attention to international standards and recommendations, the statement said. TEPCO also should have trained employees with practical crisis management skills rather than conduct obligatory drills as a formality, it said.

The admissions mark a major reversal for the utility, which had defended its preparedness and crisis management since the March 2011 tsunami. The disaster knocked out power to the Fukushima plant, leading to the meltdowns, which forced massive evacuations and will take decades to clean up.

The statement was released after TEPCO held its first internal reform committee meeting, led by former U.S. nuclear regulatory chief Dale Klein. His five-member committee oversees the task force’s reform plans.

“It’s very important for TEPCO to recognize the needs to reform and the committee is very anxious to facilitate the reform necessary for TEPCO to become a world-class company,” Klein told a news conference. “The committee’s goal is to ensure that TEPCO develops practices and procedures so an accident like this will never happen again.”

The reform plans aim to use the lessons learned at TEPCO’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in northern Japan. The cash-strapped utility wants to restart that plant, but TEPCO officials denied the reform plans are aimed at improving public image to gain support for the plant’s resumption.

“The reforms are intended to improve our safety culture, and we have no intention to link it to a possibility of resuming the (Kashiwazaki-Kariwa) plant,” said Takafumi Anegawa, the TEPCO official in charge of nuclear asset management. “We don’t have any preconditions for our reforms.”

The Fukushima Daiichi plant has been substantially stabilized but is still running on makeshift equipment as workers continue their work to decommission the four damaged reactors, which could take several decades.

Additional safety measures have been installed at nuclear power plants nationwide since the accident under the government’s instructions, including enhancing seawalls, adding backup power and cooling water sources, and developing better crisis management training. But plant operators will be required to take further steps as a new nuclear regulatory authority launched in September steps up safety requirements.

Investigative reports compiled by the government and the parliament panels said collusion between the company and government regulators allowed lax supervision and allowed TEPCO to continue lagging behind in safety steps.

Despite records indicating a major tsunami had once hit off Japan’s northern coast, TEPCO took the most optimistic view of the risk and insisted that its 5.7-meter-high seawall was good enough. The tsunami that struck Fukushima Dai-ichi was more than twice that height.

The company had said in its own accident probe report in June that the tsunami could not be anticipated and that the company did the best it could to bring the critically damaged plant under control, although there were shortfalls that they had to review. TEPCO bitterly criticized what it said was excessive interference from the government and the prime minister’s office.

TEPCO’s Anegawa said the task force plans to compile by the end of the year recommendations “that would have saved us from the accident if we turn the clock back.”

28 comments on “AP: Where Japan’s Post-Fukushima rebuild cash really went: Corruption and coverup on grand scale in a crisis that even TEPCO admits “could have been avoided”

  • I am organizing a fund raiser for Sendai reconstruction and I make damn sure the funds go direct to Sendai City Hall. Sod Tokyo.

    And influential international fund raisers have been sent a copy of this article-thanks for posting.

  • After the ‘Great’ Chuetsu Earthquake of 2004 when 10-20 people actually died from the earthquake, the government started adding in people dying from thrombosis or heart attacks (usually quite old people) at the time as being direct victims, jacking the number of victims up above 100 or so. Money rolled in from all sectors of the globe, mainly via the Red Cross. Everyone in the surrounding areas got 95,000 yen whether they were affected or not. The city hall, a very modern and capable facility was scrapped and they built a new gorgeous city hall complete with shopping centre. Totally unnecessary.

    — Do we have any media substantiation of this? Which city?

  • Quick comment here: The second article details shows how industry functions when its in collusion with corrupt ministries. The first article reveals how those ministries are still acting in the same corrupt, inefficient and self-serving manner post 311. Given the fact that the ministries are still the acting government of Japan and there is no means of dislodging them from power by normal political means, what does this say about the future of Japan? Why do naive NJs still insist on wearing rose-colored glasses and hoping that some mythical “younger generation” will arise and somehow revolutionize the country? This vain hope can only exist in denial of all evidence to the contrary, for any honest assessment of the present passive, risk averse and mentally deadened sheep graduating from the nation’s universities can only lead to the conclusion that they’ll perpetuate the present system, either by joining it or refusing to try to change it.

    I’d also like to join many others in asking: Where is the accountability here? Where are the arrests and the lawsuits? In ANY other halfway sane country, the court system would be fully occupied with lawsuits against the government and TEPCO and the entire management of TEPCO and all the ministers who colluded with TEPCO would be facing inquests, arrests, prison time and fines. But not Japan. Oh no! No one is ever responsible. This is a culture that has made a cult of evading responsibility. Wartime atrocities anyone?

    And, most amazingly, Japan still gets a pass from the world. It’s a fascinating place! Aren’t those inscrutable Japanese interesting? Isn’t it time for: What the hell is wrong with that place? I mean, let’s forget about manga and anime for a while and take a good hard look at a place where a disaster of this scope can occur and NO ONE is even reprimanded. A place that has fewer women in positions of power than countries like Oman, Jordan and Kuwait (source: Reimagining Japan). A place where the entire system allows and supports barbaric child custody laws and international kidnapping. A place where the citizens of the capital city elect a dyed-in-the-wool racist and where the leaders of the other two major cities are also racist nationalists.

    Why the free pass for Japan?

    — Because it’s a rich strategic regional ally.

  • Rampant corruption and stunning incompetence at the highest levels are to be expected in Japan. Unfortunately, an almost completely disinterested and cowed Japanese citizenry is as well.

  • In related news, four members of the six-member panel drafting nuclear safety regulations have recieved millions of Yen from the Nuclear Industry.

    The Japan Times Sunday, Nov. 4, 2012
    Officials drafting new regulations raked in millions
    Nuke industry funded NRC’s safety experts
    Four of the six members on a government panel drafting new nuclear safety regulations each received between ¥3 million and over ¥27 million in payments, donations and grants from entities in the atomic energy industry in the last three to four years, the Nuclear Regulation Authority said.

    But after disclosing the data Friday, the new nuclear watchdog’s secretariat said all four members “were selected in line with regulations, and there should thus be no problem” over their appointment.

    Critics, however, cited the risk of their judgment being swayed by power companies and other nuclear-related bodies, and of the possibility that new safety regulations could be watered down.

    The NRA requires experts involved in drafting safety standards for nuclear plants and other matters to disclose their remuneration and other payments received, but it has no provision to disqualify them if previously withheld information comes to light.

    Of the four members, Akira Yamaguchi, a professor at Osaka University’s graduate school, and Akio Yamamoto, a Nagoya University professor, each received payments in excess of ¥500,000 annually from entities including Nuclear Engineering Ltd., an affiliate of Kansai Electric Power Co.

    In addition, Yamamoto received more than ¥27 million in donations and research grants from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., which manufactures equipment for nuclear reactors, while Yamaguchi raked in a total of ¥10.1 million from Japan Atomic Power Co., a constructor and operator of atomic plants, and from other nuclear-related parties.

    Meanwhile, University of Tsukuba professor Yutaka Abe was paid a combined ¥5 million by a variety of bodies, including a research laboratory affiliated with Tokyo Electric Power Co., and Tomoyuki Sugiyama, a researcher at the state-run Japan Atomic Energy Agency, was awarded roughly ¥3 million in total from Nuclear Fuel Industries Ltd.

    The only two panel members who did not receive any funds from entities in the nuclear power industry are Norio Watanabe, a researcher at the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, and Meiji University associate professor Tadahiro Katsuta.

    More at http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/nn20121104a1.html

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    More bad news on Japan’s nuclear engineering research. AP News reported that the academics who have studied safety and regulation system of nuclear reactors had received a hush money from the utilities company– The Evil Petulant Criminal Organization, a.k.a. TEPCO.

    Here’s the link:


    This reminds me of what David Shirota, a liberal journalist/media activist, says about university academics practicing bad science especially when their research involves money from big corporations:

    “Whether in questions of food policy, telecom policy, climate policy or any other contentious issue at the national or local issue, questions — even uncomfortable ones about paymasters — are good and necessary. As the last few weeks showed, they [universities] prevent us from submitting to corporate subterfuge and do not allow controversial findings to become assumed fact simply because they come from a venerable source. They force us, in other words, to remember Ronald Reagan’s aphorism: trust, but verify.”

    Shirota, “Bad science gets busted”

    See http://www.salon.com/2012/09/24/bad_science_gets_busted/

  • Imagine how all the government workers who have taken pay cuts to help pay for the reconstruction feel about now. I guarantee that these cuts will be permanent–not the two years promised. The reconstruction excuse was just a ruse.

  • @DL

    Still livid, actually 😉

    Between ‘temporary’ pay cut and increase in city and prefectural taxes, my take home pay went down about 15% this year (the punch line? I live in Sendai and had my house destroyed by the earthquake).

    So I’m really pleased that my pay has been appropriated for this…

  • @DL, don’t tell your wife!

    One of my students, teacher, informed his wife of a ten percent reduction in teachers’s pay. The next month, his allowance (given to him by his wife) was reduced by ten percent!

  • I say this time and time again, but the keyword is corruption *PERCEPTION* index.

    — Then the public really is gullible.

  • Andrew in Saitama says:

    Even if you didn’t get an official pay cut, your take home pay has been reduced thanks to increased premiums for the national health scheme and a reduction in tax breaks for having kids – all for the “disaster fund”.

  • Sorry, busstop signs not only in Kusatsu. And not only busstop signs — civic improvements around train stations, too.

    これも復興予算なの? バス停の外国語表示、駅前再開発



    Rest at http://www.asahi.com/special/10005/intro/TKY201211050592.html

  • Seems the BBC has a new reporter in town. Well, so far, he is looking at how Japan Inc works and why, and what should be said about it. Much more than the last encumbent Roland Buerk who just did “hey look at this fun thing in Japan” type article and treating Japan like Religion…don’t ask it spoils the illusion, rather then real probing.:

    Lets hope R W-H continues to ask questions and probe the veneer of Japan Inc. and not roll over and put on the rose tinted glasses.

  • Wild mushrooms far from Fukushima show high levels of cesium
    Asahi Shimbun November 21, 2012
    By MUTSUMI MITOBE/ Staff Writer

    Wild mushrooms, a seasonal delicacy in many parts of Japan, have lost their magic.

    Tourism industry officials and restaurant operators have been aghast to learn that wild mushrooms picked far from the site of the nuclear disaster in Fukushima Prefecture last year are showing high levels of radioactive cesium.

    Last year, only wild mushrooms picked in Fukushima Prefecture were found to have cesium levels that exceeded legal standards.

    This year, however, wild mushrooms from as far away as Aomori, Nagano and Shizuoka prefectures, all more than 200 kilometers from Fukushima, have been found to be contaminated with cesium.

    The central government has asked 17 prefectural governments in eastern Japan to test wild mushrooms for cesium.

    The task is difficult because differentiating types of wild mushroom is not easy. For this reason, it was decided that if even a single mushroom type had more than the legally allowed level of cesium in at least two municipalities in a prefecture, a blanket ban will be imposed on shipments from those municipalities.

    Another problem is that decontamination work in mountainous areas is extremely difficult. Because of this, there has yet to be a single case in which a ban has been lifted.

    For example, “chichitake” mushrooms picked in Towada, Aomori Prefecture, in October were found to have cesium levels of 120 becquerels per kilogram. Towada is located 350 kilometers north of the Fukushima No. 1 plant.

    Under the Food Sanitation Law, the legal standard for cesium is 100 becquerels per kilogram.

    The central government issued a shipment restriction and the Aomori prefectural government banned the sale of all wild mushrooms picked in the city, including “nameko” and “kuritake,” or brick cap, mushrooms.

    A 42-year-old man who works in Towada’s tourism industry fretted about the consequences of the ban.

    “We are unable to offer mushrooms in tempura or potted stew form that 80 percent of our customers order,” he said. “It is taking a heavy toll on business.”

    He said there are many repeat visitors who crave the opportunity to eat wild mushrooms.

    “I also don’t want to explain why we can’t provide the mushrooms because that could lead to negative publicity that radiation is also a major concern in Aomori,” he said.

    A variety of mushroom called “sakura shimeji” picked in Aomori city was also found to be slightly in excess of legal standards in October. All fungi picked in Aomori city disappeared from store shelves after the prefectural government issued instructions to halt shipments.

    The operator of a grocery store near JR Aomori Station who is also a mushroom researcher decided to stop handling all wild mushrooms regardless of origin.

    “Even if I am told the mushrooms were picked outside of Aomori city, I still cannot take responsibility,” said Yutaka Tezuka, 61. “I truly regret not being able to offer this autumn delicacy.”

    Hoto is a popular dish in Yamanashi Prefecture that combines flat udon noodles with vegetables in stew form.

    However, Tenkajaya, a hoto restaurant in the town of Fujikawaguchiko, has removed hoto stew with wild mushrooms from its menu.

    The dish matches the autumn tourism season, leading the 70-year-old restaurant owner to say, “While it hurts our business, I am also saddened when I see disappointed tourists who cannot order the dish.”

    According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, Fukushima Prefecture was the only region that was slapped with a shipment restriction for wild mushrooms last year.

    One reason for the increase in such restrictions this year is a lowering of the legal standard for cesium from 500 becquerels per kilogram to 100 becquerels.

    As of Nov. 16, officials said 93 municipalities in 10 prefectures, including Fukushima, had a shipment restriction in place.

    For five prefectures–Aomori, Saitama, Yamanashi, Nagano and Shizuoka–wild mushrooms constitute the only produce for which a shipment ban is in effect.

    Cesium levels have also risen in various areas compared with last year.

    According to tests requested by the central government, the highest levels recorded this year were 120 becquerels in Aomori Prefecture, up from only 60 becquerels last year; 2,100 becquerels in Nagano Prefecture (1,320 becquerels last year); and 3,000 becquerels in Tochigi Prefecture (134 becquerels last year).

    Yasuyuki Muramatsu, a chemistry professor at Gakushuin University who specializes in radiation effects on ecology, said, “While the detailed mechanism is still unclear, mushrooms can more easily absorb cesium in comparison to plants because they are fungi.”

    As for why cesium levels are higher this autumn, Muramatsu said, “There is the possibility that radioactive materials that were attached to the trunks and leaves of trees last year were washed away by the rain and entered the soil into which mushrooms extend their fungal filament.”

    Muramatsu cautioned that some types of wild mushroom may have high cesium levels next year as well, which will require continued testing.

    By MUTSUMI MITOBE/ Staff Writer

  • @17 Flyjin
    ‘accommodation (and cancer) provided!’

    Given how the people of Tohuku bleated about how they were deserted by ‘disloyal gaijin’, why would anyone bother to apply for that job?
    On a related note, I used to feel sorry for the homeless and as yet uncompensated disaster victims, but then I realized that I don’t have to, since I am sure that due to their unique ‘Japaneseness’ and harmony of ‘wa’, they are all very happy with the way things turned out (see recent election result), I just failed to understand that fact since I am ‘gaijin’.

  • Andrew in Saitama says:

    Nihonmatsu… a fairly wide city east-west… some of it pretty close to Minami Soma… I won’t pass judgement beyond a “no thanks” from me.

  • And now even more misery for Tepco


    “…Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), owner of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, has been sued by eight US sailors over radiation exposure….They have each sought $10m (£6m) in compensatory damages and $30m in punitive damages from Tepco…The eight, who have filed the case in a US Federal Court in San Diego, also want Tepco to set up a $100m fund to pay for their medical expenses….”

    Nice one, let them explain that one away as “this is how business is done in Japan” 🙂

  • @Jim ” since I am sure that due to their unique ‘Japaneseness’ and harmony of ‘wa’, they are all very happy with the way things turned out (see recent election result), I just failed to understand that fact since I am ‘gaijin’”

    Your comment completely contains all the chickens that have come home to roost from 20-30 years of false promises to gaijins learning Japanese and working hard in Japan…for no reward.

    However, I think the sailors will get nowt; as, to quote Ishihara, they “are gaijin and therefore do not matter”.

    I am sure you and I sound unreasonable to the newbies and apologists out there, but the fact remains we we are just repeating mantras of various Japanese.

  • NYT: The Fukushima debacle gets worse, as Japan’s construction kingpins take over the “cleanup effort” and ignore world standards of safe radioactive decontamination (the Environment Ministry resorts to boilerplate excuses — “Japanese soil is different”, and “Foreigners might scare the locals”. Seriously.) Read on:

    In Japan, a Painfully Slow Sweep
    Published: January 7, 2013

    NARAHA, Japan — The decontamination crews at a deserted elementary school here are at the forefront of what Japan says is the most ambitious radiological cleanup the world has seen, one that promised to draw on cutting-edge technology from across the globe.

    But much of the work at the Naraha-Minami Elementary School, about 12 miles away from the ravaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, tells another story. For eight hours a day, construction workers blast buildings with water, cut grass and shovel dirt and foliage into big black plastic bags — which, with nowhere to go, dot Naraha’s landscape like funeral mounds.

    More than a year and a half since the nuclear crisis, much of Japan’s post-Fukushima cleanup remains primitive, slapdash and bereft of the cleanup methods lauded by government scientists as effective in removing harmful radioactive cesium from the environment.

    Local businesses that responded to a government call to research and develop decontamination methods have found themselves largely left out. American and other foreign companies with proven expertise in environmental remediation, invited to Japan in June to show off their technologies, have similarly found little scope to participate.

    Recent reports in the local media of cleanup crews dumping contaminated soil and leaves into rivers has focused attention on the sloppiness of the cleanup.

    “What’s happening on the ground is a disgrace,” said Masafumi Shiga, president of Shiga Toso, a refurbishing company based in Iwaki, Fukushima. The company developed a more effective and safer way to remove cesium from concrete without using water, which could repollute the environment. “We’ve been ready to help for ages, but they say they’ve got their own way of cleaning up,” he said.

    Shiga Toso’s technology was tested and identified by government scientists as “fit to deploy immediately,” but it has been used only at two small locations, including a concrete drain at the Naraha-Minami school.

    Instead, both the central and local governments have handed over much of the 1 trillion yen decontamination effort to Japan’s largest construction companies. The politically connected companies have little radiological cleanup expertise and critics say they have cut corners to employ primitive — even potentially hazardous — techniques.

    The construction companies have the great advantage of available manpower. Here in Naraha, about 1,500 cleanup workers are deployed every day to power-spray buildings, scrape soil off fields, and remove fallen leaves and undergrowth from forests and mountains, according to an official at the Maeda Corporation, which is in charge of the cleanup.

    That number, the official said, will soon rise to 2,000, a large deployment rarely seen on even large-sale projects like dams and bridges.

    The construction companies suggest new technologies may work, but are not necessarily cost-effective.

    “In such a big undertaking, cost-effectiveness becomes very important,” said Takeshi Nishikawa, an executive based in Fukushima for the Kashima Corporation, Japan’s largest construction company. The company is in charge of the cleanup in the city of Tamura, a part of which lies within the 12-mile exclusion zone. “We bring skills and expertise to the project,” Mr. Nishikawa said.

    Kashima also built the reactor buildings for all six reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, leading some critics to question why control of the cleanup effort has been left to companies with deep ties to the nuclear industry.

    Also worrying, industry experts say, are cleanup methods used by the construction companies that create loose contamination that can become airborne or enter the water.

    At many sites, contaminated runoff from cleanup projects is not fully recovered and is being released into the environment, multiple people involved in the decontamination work said.

    In addition, there are no concrete plans about storing the vast amounts of contaminated soil and foliage the cleanup is generating, which the environment ministry estimates will amount to at least 29 million cubic meters, or more than a billion cubic feet.

    The contaminated dirt lies in bags on roadsides, in abandoned fields and on the coastline, where experts say they are at risk from high waves or another tsunami.

    “This isn’t decontamination — it’s sweeping up dirt and leaves and absolutely irresponsible,” said Tomoya Yamauchi, an expert in radiation measurement at Kobe University who has been helping Fukushima communities test the effectiveness of various decontamination methods. “Japan has started up its big public works machine, and the cleanup has become an end in itself. It’s a way for the government to appear to be doing something for Fukushima.”

    In some of the more heavily contaminated parts of Fukushima, which covers about 100 square miles, the central government aims to reduce radiation exposure levels to below 20 millisieverts a year by 2014, a level the government says is safe for the general public. But experts doubt whether this is achievable, especially with current cleanup methods.

    After some recent bad press, the central government has promised to step up checks of the decontamination work. “We will not betray the trust of the local communities,” Shinji Inoue, the environment vice minister, said Monday.

    There had been high hopes about the government’s disaster reconstruction plan. It was announced four months after the March 2011 disaster, which declared Japan would draw on the most advanced decontamination know-how possible.

    But confusion over who would conduct and pay for the cleanup slowed the government response. It took nine months for the central government to decide that it would take charge of decontamination work in 11 of the heaviest-contaminated towns and cities in Fukushima, leaving the rest for local governments to handle.

    In October, the state-backed research organization, the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, announced that it was soliciting new decontamination technology from across the country.

    By early November, the agency had identified 25 technologies that its own tests showed removed harmful cesium from the environment.

    A new system to trap, filter and recycle contaminated runoff, developed by the local machinery maker Fukushima Komatsu Forklift, was one of technologies. But since then, the company has not been called on to participate in the state-led cleanup.

    “For the big general contractors, it’s all about the bottom line,” said Masao Sakai, an executive at the company. “New technology is available to prevent harmful runoff, but they stick to the same old methods.”

    The Japanese government also made an initial effort to contact foreign companies for decontamination support. It invited 32 companies from the United States that specialize in remediation technologies like strip-painting and waste minimization, to show off their expertise to Japanese government officials, experts and companies involved in the cleanup.

    Opinions on the trip’s effectiveness vary among participants, but in the six months since, not a single foreign company has been employed in Japan’s cleanup, according to the trip’s participants and Japan’s Environment Ministry.

    “Japan has a rich history in nuclear energy, but as you know, the U.S. has a much more diverse experience in dealing with the cleanup of very complicated nuclear processing facilities. We’ve been cleaning it up since World War II,” said Casey Bunker, a director at RJ Lee, a scientific consulting company based in Pennsylvania that took part in the visit.

    “There was a little of, ‘Hey, bring your tools over and show us how it works.’ But they ultimately wanted to do it themselves, to fix things themselves,” Mr. Bunker said. “There didn’t seem to be a lot of interest in a consultative relationship moving forward.”

    Japanese officials said adapting overseas technologies presented a particular challenge.

    “Even if a method works overseas, the soil in Japan is different, for example,” said Hidehiko Nishiyama, deputy director at the environment ministry, who is in charge of the Fukushima cleanup. “And if we have foreigners roaming around Fukushima, they might scare the old grandmas and granddads there.”

    Some local residents are losing faith in the decontamination effort.

    “I thought Japan was a technologically advanced country. I thought we’d be able to clean up better than this,” said Yoshiko Suganami, a legal worker who was forced to abandon her home and office over two miles from the Fukushima Daiichi plant. “It’s clear the decontamination drive isn’t really about us any more.”

    Most of the clients at Ms. Suganami’s new practice in Fukushima city are also nuclear refugees who have lost their jobs and homes and are trying to avert bankruptcy. She said few expect to ever return.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @ Debito #23

    Says it all.
    Thank you for posting that.
    Yet another microcosm for all that is wrong with Japan. If the J-public (especially the victims of the disaster) are going to persist in taking it lying down (and unlubricated!), then I can’t see much hope for the future.

  • Take a look at this damning report in the New York Times about the post-Fukushima cleanup that is sickening in its familiarity. Alex Kerr could have written this a decade or more ago.


    Despite initial overtures and tatemae posturing:

    “There had been high hopes about the government’s disaster reconstruction plan. It was announced four months after the March 2011 disaster, which declared Japan would draw on the most advanced decontamination know-how possible”

    it turns out that known technologies were ignored, and foreign firms completely excluded, despite their established and effective techniques:

    “The Japanese government also made an initial effort to contact foreign companies for decontamination support. It invited 32 companies from the United States that specialize in remediation technologies like strip-painting and waste minimization, to show off their expertise to Japanese government officials, experts and companies involved in the cleanup.

    Opinions on the trip’s effectiveness vary among participants, but in the six months since, not a single foreign company has been employed in Japan’s cleanup, according to the trip’s participants and Japan’s Environment Ministry.”

    Instead, there are now armies of cheap laborers washing down buildings with water and scraping topsoil off schoolyards and dumping it in local rivers – simply spreading the contamination even further while they toil to line the coffers of companies with the juicy cleanup contracts – companies that just conveniently are linked to the nuclear industry. And this is a first world country?

    The final comment from the environment ministry really said it all though. This almost reads like a sarcastic joke referencing the “Japan has different snow” tactics of yester-year, with a fine dash of xenophobia thrown in for good measure. Can’t have any nasty furriners scaring the oldies!! (Let’s conveniently ignore the fact that hundreds of foreigners if not thousands have already given their time, money and labor to cleanup and rebuild in Tohoku, and by all accounts their assistance was warmly welcomed).

    “Even if a method works overseas, the soil in Japan is different, for example,” said Hidehiko Nishiyama, deputy director at the environment ministry, who is in charge of the Fukushima cleanup. “And if we have foreigners roaming around Fukushima, they might scare the old grandmas and granddads there.”

    Seriously Nishiyama san? You’d rather those old ojiisans and obaasans developed cancer and died from radioactive contamination than risk their tender sensibilities against the *gasp* SHOCKING sight of seeing a foreigner. Why they may just expire on the spot!!

    *rant over*.

  • I remember people in the states telling me that there would be so many opportunities for business in the construction industry. Not much I could say, the naivety does get old, but your left thinking ” dont you know how it is here?”

    The Japanese powers that be were never going to allow anybody but themselves in on the rebuilding boom, after they manipulated the funds to go where they wanted.

  • Actually, I was kind of relieved to read about the grocery store owner in Aomori who refuses to sell any wild mushrooms. Maybe it is my personal paranoia, but given the apathy of the Japanese public combined with their exaggerated adulation of gourmet food and “seasonal delicacies”, I had come to the conclusion that a completely different attitude towards the health risks was in place, i.e. the Japanese simply had decided to keep on as if nothing happened, not miss out on a couple of seasons of “delicacies”, even at the risk of getting cancer, and that all those checks being done on food were simply “security theatre” with no real consequences, with the Japanese public fully aware of it (because they know it’s the Japanese way), but keeping up the “tatemae” of monitoring food contamination.

  • Jim Di Griz says:


    Since you obsessively check this site, please read Debito’s post #23 and explain to me;

    1. How this is simply one small isolated case of government and business collusion in corruption, and does by no means indicate that ‘Japan Inc.’ is broken?
    2. How does this prove that the Fukushima situation is fully safe and under control, and being managed in a transparent fashion?
    3. How does the following statement;’“Even if a method works overseas, the soil in Japan is different, for example,” said Hidehiko Nishiyama, deputy director at the environment ministry, who is in charge of the Fukushima cleanup. “And if we have foreigners roaming around Fukushima, they might scare the old grandmas and granddads there.”’, prove that rather than racism being endemic in the heart of the Japanese state, I am simply an over sensitive moaner who can’t understand Japan’s unique culture?
    4. How does this article prove that all Japan reporting is shoddy in nature, and biased unfairly against Japan?
    5. How does this statement by a displaced Fukushima resident; ‘“It’s clear the decontamination drive isn’t really about us any more.”’ clearly reek of unfair and scientifically unsound anti-nuclear lobby alarmism?

    By all means, please take this opportunity to show us all where we have being getting it so wrong for all these years in our criticism of Japan.


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