End of the day, factory whistle cries, Men walk through these gates with death in their eyes.
— Bruce Springsteen, “Factory”
Bring us the living dead. People no one will miss.
— Fukushima official’s request to Yakuza
TEPCO’s involvement with anti-social forces and their inability to filter them out of the work-place is a national security issue … Nuclear energy shouldn’t be in the hands of the yakuza. They’re gamblers and an intelligent person doesn’t want them to have atomic dice to play with.
— Japanese Senator1
The technological issue of nuclear energy is intertwined with the exploitation of human labor in a hierarchy of interests, and how human labor is expended is an economic and moral issue. The Grand Scientific Project from the time of Francis Bacon up to the Manhattan Project of Oppenheimer and Fermi has been a dangerous gamble for humanity even though the advertised purpose is that progress is good.
The exploitation of labor at nuclear plants depends on the tools of social engineering, of government, mass media and schools. This is the hidden and shameful side of today’s materialist society and belies our complicity in a criminalized culture.
Inefficient and corrupt employment practices at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant (FNPP) are prolonging the disaster. Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) outsources 90 percent of the work to subcontractors, mainly utilizing Japan’s criminal syndicates, “the Yakuza.” Japan is still a middle class society and most people will not volunteer for nuclear work. Japan risks running out of workers who have not exceeded their legal radiation limits.
Considered to be “Japan’s largest organized crime group” — who are on the radar of the US Treasury Dept. (another big crime group) — the Yakuza offer a service to society by sopping up its losers and giving them a dodgy occupation.
Journalist, Jake Adelstein, an expert on the Yakuza, risked his life as a reporter on the crime beat in Japan. Not because of shoot outs or knife fights, but because he had to take up smoking cigarettes in order to fit in with police and Yakuza! These short video interviews offer a useful introduction into how the Yakuza operate. Tepco’s relationship with the Yakuza is a cesspool of corruption from the highest to the lowest levels in its organization. “A senior National Police Agency officer, speaking on grounds of anonymity said, ‘TEPCO has a history of doing business with the yakuza that is far deeper than just using their labor.’ ”1
Adelstein notes that the Yakuza has 86,000 members in Japan, of the 22 major organizations the “Yamaguchi” has almost half of all members. The Yakuza are:
[c]riminal trade associations legally recognized by the Japanese government … They exist out in the open. The Japanese government regulates them and there are laws restricting their behavior but as criminal organizations themselves they are not banned. It is very difficult for the police to do an investigation that goes all the way up to the top. It’s problems within the Japanese law itself. There’s no plea bargaining, very limited wire tapping, no witness protection program … no undercover work allowed. The Japanese police are never able to destroy the Yakuza.
[T]he nuclear business-industrial-political and media complex in Japan known as the ‘nuclear mafia’ … [the nuclear industry] is a black hole of criminal malfeasance, incompetence, and corruption’ …. The government tacitly recognises their existence, and they are classified, designated and regulated. Yakuza make their money from extortion, blackmail, construction, real estate, collection services, financial market manipulation, protection rackets, fraud and a labyrinth of front companies including labour dispatch services and private detective agencies. They do the work that no one else will do or find the workers for jobs no one wants …. The Fukushima plant is located in the turf of the Sumiyoshi-kai, which is the second largest yakuza group in Japan with roughly 12,000 members.
Without the dregs of society to do the dirty work, modern society could not exist its present, most hypocritical form. Most people do not want to get dirt under their fingernails and prefer to apply nail polish or chat on their iPhones.
Working in nuclear power plants in Japan is not considered an honorable and elegant trade, like cabinet making or industrial design, but a brutal, labor intensive experience. While the Yakuza organization itself is an evil, the workers themselves can be considered heroes. The amount of excruciating heat, hard work, physical and mental stress and radiation they endure is inhuman. Even working at a normally functioning reactor is not easy or safe work but the FNPP is highly radioactive.
Fearless Reporter Tells All
Adelstein reviews an astounding new book, The Yakuza and the Nuclear Industry, by undercover Japanese reporter, Tomohiko Suzuki. Suzuki risked his life, due to radiation exposure and possible threats, to bring us the details from the Nuclear Hell Zone. The book reveals scandalous information such as that mentally handicapped people are recruited to work in the nuke plants by the Yakuza. Suzuki compares the Yakuza with Tepco:
Yakuza may be a plague on society … but they don’t ruin the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and irradiate the planet out of sheer greed and incompetence.
Having lived in Tokyo for many years, I concur. I am not a fan of Yakuza culture and can see in my daily experience that the Yakuza have a degrading effect on society. But as long as you don’t mess with them — they won’t mess with you. In this way, the streets of Tokyo remain fairly safe.
Suzuki points out that “Japan’s nuclear mafia … [is a] conglomeration of corrupt politicians and bureaucrats, the shady nuclear industry, their lobbyists” with the Yakuza at the center. Is Suzuki implying that the Yakuza run the Nuclear Mafia? It is certainly true that Tepco could not fulfill a nuclear workforce without them. According to Adelstein:
As the scale of the catastrophe at Fukushima became apparent, many workers fled the scene. To contain the nuclear meltdown, a handful of workers stayed behind, being exposed to large amounts of radiation: the so-called ‘Fukushima Fifty.’ Among this heroic group, according to Suzuki, were several members of the yakuza …. ‘Almost all nuclear power plants that are built in Japan are built taking the risk that the workers may well be exposed to large amounts of radiation …. That they will get sick, they will die early, or they will die on the job. And the people bringing the workers to the plants and also doing the construction are often yakuza.’
The very workers who are attempting to shore up the situation at FNPP, many of whom are Yakuza, are being blamed by local people in Fukushima for the disaster. A recent survey reported that 30 percent of 1,495 workers at the site suffer from severe mental health issues. The survey does not even include the most exploited workers at the site.
Prime Minister Noda recently rejected protester’s requests to shut down the nuclear reactors. As the Metropolitan Coalition Against Nukes told Noda in a face to face meeting, “[w]e the people do not believe you” regarding his empty promises to phase out nukes in the future. The Nuclear Mafia are restarting reactors even though they are unnecessary for electricity production. An overwhelming majority of people want to abolish nuclear power. Having contaminated the world with quadrillions of becquerels of radiation (petabecquerels), Tepco is under a pseudo nationalization process that funnels tax money into their pockets yet maintains their autonomy.
A common practice among workers in nuclear plants is to hide their real exposure rate of radiation. Because there are legal limits of radiation exposure, workers will take off their dosimeters, or cover them with lead. In normal times in Japan workers could also migrate from one plant to the other without indicating previous work experience, and work “under the table.” How long it takes to get sick and or die from such a practice is anyone’s guess.
If the “living dead,” the people “no one will miss” and the dregs of society can’t be coerced into sacrificing themselves, how about top Tepco executives or pro nuclear professors from Tokyo University for a helping hand? Good idea! But first you will have to chase them down on the golf course. NHK reports that:
[M]any workers crucial to the effort are reaching the limit for radiation exposure …. University of Tokyo Professor Kazumitsu Nawata warns of the consequences of losing nuclear plant workers with necessary expertise. He says young workers must be trained due to the need for massive manpower to fully bring the Daiichi plant under control.
Is Professor Nawata volunteering other’s children for this dirty job, or maybe his own children would prefer to work in the High Sievert Zone? Tokyo University bears a heavy responsibility for the current catastrophe for its role in legitimizing the Nuclear Mafia.
A notable percentage of workers are leaving once they have reached the legal radiation limits. Of the 3,000 daily workers, “[s]ome of the firms have adopted stricter exposure standards … so that they do not breach the limit and become unemployable.”
A number of recent incidents have highlighted the scandal over worker safety, including:
- Over 140 workers have been found to have used fake names when getting jobs doing reconstruction work and are presently unaccounted for.
- Workers have purposely left integral dosimeter off their person while at work. “Tepco is pushing the responsibility to their sub-contract companies but has no solution for the shortage of nuclear workers” which indicates “major staffing problems” at the plant.
- Some workers themselves think the only solution to shoring up the plant will be “human wave tactics” as were employed at Chernobyl. If that is the case, where will the necessary workforce come from? In order combat the dwindling labor force, Tepco and subcontractors are knowingly telling workers to fake their radiation data. The practice is “believed to be part of a widespread practice at the plant.”
Former General Electric nuclear plant inspector, a whistle blower who previously exposed dangers at the Fukushima plant–that were ignored–Kei Sugaoka, admitted that he had heard of young workers in the Taiwan nuclear industry dying from cancer due to radiation. When he worked in Taiwan he says “[t]hey made us wear lead vests to falsify radiation exposure … All the lead did was cover our dosimeters.”
Despite the need to quickly resolve the situation, workers are given weekends off, but are also being recruited for decontamination in the 20 km zone. Speculation is that restart of other reactors in Japan will worsen the worker shortage. Japan seems to be going in too many directions at once.
The Nuclear Workforce
French sociologist, Paul Jobin, “began research on Japanese and Taiwanese nuclear plant workers in 2002, mainly at Fukushima Daiichi,” and he did follow up interviews after the Fukushima disaster in 2011.
Jobin notes that:
* Subcontracting labor at nuclear plants in Japan began shortly after their creation, in the mid-1970s. “In France, this trend would develop after 1988, reaching a rate of 80% by 1992.”
* “According to NISA’s data, in 2009, Japan’s nuclear industry recruited more than 80,000 contract workers against 10,000 regular employees.”
* Part time employment is carried out in order to limit labor costs “whether in France or Japan, the nuclear industry nurtures a heavy culture of secrecy concerning the number of irradiated workers.”
* Before the Fukushima disaster, “only 9 former workers received compensation for an occupational cancer linked to their intervention in nuclear plants.” This number is probably far lower than the real number of those who suffered from working at NPPs.
* “[S]tatistics from TEPCO (dated November 30, 2011) reported 3,745 workers on the site in March (about 1700 TEPCO employees and 2,000 subcontractors), and 14,000 for the time from April to October. The overwhelming majority … were subcontractors.” But even these figures may not include many low level but highly irradiated workers.
* Radiation exposure depends on one’s status in the hierarchy. Tepco executives and high or mid level engineers are spared exposure, while “there is systematic camouflage of the collective radiation of the most exposed front line workers.”
* Since March 11, 2011, Jobin estimates “that around 30,000 workers have been exposed to significant levels of radiation, some for a few days, many for more than one month.” How many of these workers are desperate or “mentally handicapped” to begin with? No wonder they are being used by the Nuclear Mafia as disposable work-bots. Hiroaki Koide, nuclear reactor specialist at Kyoto University says “[t]he truth of the matter is that the subcontract workers don’t really know the dangers of radiation and they don’t know how to protect themselves.” For example, wearing protective masks are so uncomfortable that many workers remove them during their work shift. How many health issues have been caused as a direct result of the work? In one case, the worker had been exposed in less than a year to levels far beyond what is considered normal lifetime background radiation. He suffered a heart attack.
Worker Rights Advocates Fight For Social Justice
Hifumi Okunuki is an expert in labor law and spends much of her time fighting for the rights of Fukushima’s forgotten heroes. She notes that “the working conditions at Fukushima No. 1 are an emergency within an emergency” and that “special laws should be promulgated to guarantee the safety and fair treatment of the workers.”
Japan’s Labor Standards Office has thus far recognized only 10 cases of radiation sickness caused by working conditions due to the inherent difficulty in proving causation in individual cases …. Management faces quite serious, possibly criminal, liability if while understanding the risk radiation exposure poses, they endanger those working on-site through a complicated web of outsourcing. Article 87 of the Labor Standards Law holds firms that outsource responsible for workplace safety and sanitation for workers employed by their subcontractor …. Illnesses caused by radiation exposure from nuclear power plants are covered by Japan’s Act on Compensation for Nuclear Damage.
Unsurprisingly, the Japanese justice system which plays an integral role in siding with the Nuclear Mafia has “yet to see a major court case over radiation-related deaths.”
A new report from the venerable non governmental organization, Citizens Nuclear Information Center (CNIC), in Tokyo, highlights the FNPP worker issue. One whistle blower reported that in years past:
“Worker accidents are usually covered up inside the nuclear plant. Even if workers suddenly fall ill, they are not allowed to call an ambulance. In my case, after having been left unattended for three hours, I was taken to hospital in a colleague’s car. I therefore suffered aftereffects later and became physically handicapped. Of all accidents occurring in the nuclear power station, 90% were concealed.”
However, thanks to growing international attention, some of the conditions at FNPP have slightly improved. “Currently, ambulances are allowed to come into the nuclear power station and there is a doctor onsite 24 hrs a day.”
Tepco’s Blind Eye
According to CNIC (Ibid.), the system for employing nuclear workers relies on an economically pyramid shaped, “multi-layered structure” of contractors and subcontractors which makes profits for executives and employees. Investigations have revealed the “[p]resence of subcontractors affiliated with crime syndicates and their employees.” In the year 2000 it was known that “350 companies were involved” at the FNPP and that many of the Yakuza employees or subcontractors are presently involved in the clean up operations.
* “Under the utility, there are plant makers, subsidiaries of TEPCO and the plant makers, large, medium- and small-sized construction and repair companies, independent master carpenters and plumbers.”
* The Yakuza enforce a severe hierarchy “between the group leader and the members” which is akin to the military and effective for getting dangerous work accomplished.
* “[I]n 2006, TEPCO reportedly attempted to drive the gangsters … out of the plant.” The Yakuza said: “Do it if you think you can.” Tepco blinked.
* ‘[P]olice arrested leading members of a gangster group affiliated with the Sumiyoshi-kai crime syndicate based in Nihonmatsu, Fukushima Prefecture’ who were ‘charged with violation of the Temporary Staffing Services Law.’ A president of a local company who ‘was deeply involved in the staffing of the nuclear power station and was the president of the local chamber of commerce and industry, as well as a member of the Fukushima Prefecture Nuclear Power Plant Town Information Council’ was arrested on suspicion of ‘illegally possessing a gun.’
* “Workers hired by the lowest-level subcontractors were paid only around 5,000 yen [$60] per day, and were not covered by social insurance or employment insurance …. the current average daily wage is said to be 8,000 yen, although TEPCO pays 60,000-70,000 yen per capita to the principal subcontractor.” Everyone in between ‘takes a cut from the worker’s wages.’
In other words, it’s an economic racket. Although an “effective” system, “[i]llegal acts, such as the forgery of health reports … and not allowing workers to subscribe to health insurance and employees’ pension plans, are rampant,” but are tolerated by Tepco. This draws into question how effective such workers can be given the intimidation of violence from Yakuza bosses and the poor working conditions. The “problem is still beyond TEPCO’s control because the subcontractor system is deeply multi-layered and complex, and because the yakuza are so deeply entrenched in the system.”
The 1995 documentary film, Nuclear Ginza, is valuable for its historical perspective on nuclear workers in Japan. Corruption, payoffs and coverups were the norm, then and now. As one worker whose health was damaged said,
“The big companies treat workers like objects or tools to be thrown away when no longer needed. Japan is considered a rich advanced and democratic country but its just an illusion I think.”
A Buddhist monk, Mr. Nakajima, who had worked for years to help the plight of workers noted that “[u]nfortunately in Japan, the sad reality is that democracy has been destroyed in the areas where nuclear power exists.”
Streets Of Fire
Adelstein and Suzuki supply additional information of a particularly lurid and grim nature:
* Yakuza have a saying: “When a man has to survive doing something, it’s the nuclear industry; for a woman, it’s the sex industry.”
* One mid-level executive in the organization even defends the role of his members in the Fukushima disaster. “The accident isn’t our fault,” he said. “It’s TEPCO’s fault. We’ve always been a necessary evil in the work process. In fact, if some of our men hadn’t stayed to fight the meltdown, the situation would have been much worse. TEPCO employees and the Nuclear Industry Safety Agency inspectors mostly fled; we stood our ground.”
* “Organized crime groups from Kyushu are bringing workers as well. Many of the workers are homeless people, debtors to yakuza loan sharks, or former yakuza who have been expelled from their group.”
* Tepco refuses “to name the companies they use for outsourcing labor, background security checks, and general security at the nuclear power plants.” Recall Tepco’s feigned ignorance about government investigator’s accusations against them for “collusion.” Such bland dismissals on the part of Tepco are curious in light of the voluminous evidence to the contrary. The Tepco president’s denials of any collusion is an obvious lie.
* “Suzuki discovered evidence of Tepco subcontractors paying yakuza front companies to obtain lucrative construction contracts; of money destined for construction work flying into yakuza accounts; and of politicians and media being paid to look the other way.”
* “His fellow workers, found Suzuki, were a motley crew of homeless, chronically unemployed Japanese men, former yakuza, debtors who owed money to the yakuza, and the mentally handicapped.”
* “Suzuki claims the regular employees at the plant were often given better radiation suits than the yakuza recruits. ‘Almost every day a worker would keel over with heat exhaustion and be carried out; they would invariably return to work the next day. Going to the bathroom was virtually impossible, so workers were simply told to ‘hold it.’ ’ ”
* “According to Suzuki, the temperature monitors in the plant weren’t even working, and were ignored. Removing the mask during work was against the rules; no matter how thirsty workers became, they could not drink water.”
* “The risk of radiation exposure was 100 per cent. The masks, if their filters were cleaned regularly, which they were not, could only remove 60 per cent of the radioactive particles in the air.”
* “Suzuki found people who’d been threatened into working at Fukushima, but others who’d volunteered. Why? ‘Of course, if it was a matter of dying today or tomorrow they wouldn’t work there,’ he explains. ‘It’s because it could take 10 years or more for someone to possibly die of radiation excess. It’s like Russian roulette. If you owe enough money to the yakuza, working at a nuclear plant is a safer bet. Wouldn’t you rather take a chance at dying 10 years later than being stabbed to death now?’ ”
Faced with an ongoing radioactivity which is contaminating Japan’s food and water supply, what should be done? The Nuclear Mafia’s ethos is silken sewn into the socio-political Kabuki theater of a post modern Japanese society, which seems helpless to save itself. Maybe Ambassador Matsumura, with his international political connections of good will, and the Skilled Veterans for Fukushima would be good people to turn to for advice.