Corruption At “Decontaminating” Radioactive Towns In Japan

Wolf Richter's picture

Wolf Richter

On Friday, Katsutaka Idogawa, mayor of Futaba, a ghost town of once upon a time 7,000 people near Fukushima No. 1, told his staff that evacuees might not be able to return for 30 years. Or never, given the age of many of them. He spoke in Kazo, Saitama Prefecture, where the town’s government has settled. It was the first estimate of a timeframe. But it all depends on successful decontamination efforts. And they’ve turned into a corruption scandal.

I’ve written about top-level corruption in the Japanese nuclear industry before [check out A Revolt, the Quiet Japanese Way or  Whitewash versus Reality: “Disaster Made in Japan”], but this time, it hit the companies doing the decontamination work and the Environment Ministry.

The Ministry lined up 11 municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture for decontamination work: removing radioactive materials from the outside of buildings and from areas within 20 meters of buildings, roads, and farmland. It would be the initial process of the long-term goal to reduce airborne radiation level to under 0.23 microsievert per hour. Work has begun at four municipalities, for which ¥650 billion ($7.5 billion) has been earmarked. Big bucks, and it’s just the beginning.

The Ministry hired major construction companies, which in turn hired subcontractors, which then often hired sub-subcontractors to do the actual work, a murky process in Japan. The Ministry’s contracts stipulated how the decontamination had to be done and how radioactive waste had to be disposed of. Roofs, walls, and other surfaces would have to be washed by hand or with brushes. Power washers would not be allowed, except to clean gutters. Contaminated runoff would have to be collected and disposed of according to the rules. Contaminated leaves and soil would have to be placed in bags to prevent radiation from spreading. And dumping of radioactive materials is illegal. Violators would be fined or get thrown in the hoosegow for up to a year.

Alas, reporters of the Asahi Shimbun discretely watched and photographed, then interviewed decontamination workers at different sites. It was chilling. For example, leaves and soil contaminated by radioactive fallout weren’t put in bags and taken to collection sites for proper disposal but were dumped into rivers, at the bottom of slopes, or in other areas. Forbidden power washers were used to decontaminate houses, parking lots, and other areas; contaminated water splashed on neighboring structures, or was allowed to seep into the soil or reach the drainage system and eventually the river.

As a consequence, radiation levels after decontamination were in some cases significantly higher than they’d been before, as contaminated materials had become airborne, reaching in one case 2.9 microsieverts—near the catastrophic level at which the evacuation of residents would be required.

The culprits weren’t some lazy workers but the whole hierarchy. Supervisors had instructed workers to ignore the rules and laws for collecting and disposing of radioactive waste. Confronted with an onslaught of complaints from residents who’d observed these misdeeds after the decontamination work started last summer, Environment Ministry officials at the local office did nothing. They didn’t even record the complaints, due to convenient staffing shortages—”Because there was a continuous stream of phone calls coming in, we were unable to keep records,” an official lamented. Even subcontractors subject to numerous complaints weren’t pushed to correct their actions.

Just as conveniently, these complaints dissipated at the local office of the Ministry and never made it to the Tokyo headquarters. “We were not even aware that a large number of complaints had come in,” explained a high-ranking official.

Or so it seemed. But when a worker, who’d been told to dump contaminated vegetation at the bottom of a hill, blew the whistle and called the hotline at headquarters, nothing happened. The dumping continued for another month. “It was meaningless to have made the call,” he told the Asahi Shimbum.

Scandals of this type not only threaten the health of the residents or any possibility of return for evacuees; they also reveal a darker side of Japanese society where observing rules is a religion. And a relentless challenge for gaijin. When it comes to big bucks and power, Japan Inc.—companies and bureaucrats that protect them—has turned violating rules with impunity into an art. The nuclear industry has been a poster boy of it. Meanwhile, the little people struggle to adhere to millions of rules, many of them unspoken, to maintain their notion of a harmonious society.  

At a yearend party, an official from the Ministry of Finance, the most powerful entity at the core of Japan Inc., let slip that the Bank of Japan wasn’t doing its job. “That’s why the Ministry of Finance is trying to gain control over the Bank of Japan,” he said. The declaration of a turf war. Read.... Japan’s NO EXIT Strategy.

And here is my book about Japan. It all started in France with a Japanese girl—a “funny as hell nonfiction book about wanderlust and traveling abroad,” a reader tweeted.... BIG LIKE: CASCADE INTO AN ODYSSEY, at Amazon.

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Azannoth's picture

7.5B..illion ?! for that you could build a brand new city for 100,000 people, why da fuk do they bother with "clean-up"

Kina's picture

And I thought the Japanese were supposed to be so noble and honourable......except when it comes to money and power when they will murder current and future generations by the thousands for a few bucks.

The irony will be when all their families get cancers as children and die, followed by themselves by any luck.

flattrader's picture

Yes. The 1% has managed to kill its' progeny.  The whole island will be uninhabitable.

The problem is that those four spewing reactors will continue to kill people globally.  It's all a matter of time and degree.

In the wake of Fuku, I admire the Soviets for ther attempts to mitigate Chernobyl which is also a problem.

Ther willingness to throw nearly ONE MILLION liquidators at the reactor and mitigation bought us all precious time.

The Japs are trying to figure out how little money to spend/how to make a buck off this.

Iconoclast's picture

This is just so fukcin depressing as a species we're so fucked if we continue down this path, if there is a greater intelligence out there perhaps this is deliberate and we'll emerge better, stronger, less fucked up once we're close to a form of extinction. 

Stuck on Zero's picture

We need to send in the teams that are cleaning up Hanford.  Thirty years of work and nearly a trillion dollars and nothing cleaned up.  They're the envy of every contractor and consulting team worldwide.


flattrader's picture

A friend of mine died of cancer a few years ago in her mid-40s.  While growing-up, she was a Hanford down-winder.  Her whole family had a host of health problems.  Very sad.

Dr. Sandi's picture

Apparently they took the command to 'look busy, you guys' a little too seriously.

Looking busy can become a full time job if you do it right.

pine_marten's picture

Looking busy for months on end causes substance abuse and domestic violence.  That allows the politicians to look like they are busy doing something about it.  Who says there is not perpetual motion?

TulsaTime's picture

The same disease in Japan and in America, laws are for the little people.  Too bad the laws of physics can't be bought off the same way.  Because the reactor 4 spent fuel pool has the potential to sterilize the planet, and radioactivity does not care about deals and cash flow. And these initial contracts are just a small example of how the big one would be handled.

An extended electrical outage at many nuclear plants in the US could result in the same exploded reactor buildings, and the same flood of radiation.  I would hope the US would not freeze in the moment like the japanese did, but they did have an earthquake at the same time. We would be reassured by TPTB that no one could have forseen this coming and no assignment of blame will be productive in moving forward (just like in'08).  

It's all just one big party unitl someone pokes an eye out, or melts down a core, or expects someone big to behave in a responsible manner. 

HardlyZero's picture

Isn't the 'new' Abe really the 'old' Abe.  Isn't this really just 'living in the past'...before the meltdown ?  Ahhh better times.

Joebloinvestor's picture

They should grant special tax credits for the Japanese that want to get the heck out of Dodge and move to Detroit.


Tijuana Donkey Show's picture

Send the Yakuza first, or they might not last long. Maybe merge GM and Toyota? The Goyotam building? This has potential, we'll sell all the American foreclosures to the Chinese and Japanese, so they can move here and prop up the economy. Asian pussy and American guns, how long until the Canadians shut the border? 

Never One Roach's picture

"Big bucks, and it’s just the beginning."


Where ever there are 'Big Bucks' flowing -- Fuki Cleanup, Bailouts, Disaster relief, whatever --  Big Fraud and his cousin, Big Embezzlement, follow.

Very sad for the populo minuto of Nippon.

Sylvia Plath's picture

Japan is important for it's FX reserves that exsist in computers.... realy people don't matter no more

cynicalskeptic's picture

less people. less pensions to pay, more money stays in pension funds to buy more Japanese bonds......    

they were getting worried that they'y have to start selling off holdings to pay pensions as more people retired - solution = fewer people collecting pensions and those that are collect them for less time because they're living shorter lives.....

Kimo's picture

Time to switch over those FX assets to bitcoin.... no radiation in cyberspace.

Freddie's picture

Sad because the Yakuza will destroy or has destroyed Japan.  They have the maintenance contract at Fukashima and it was a FU disaster.  It is like have the UAW or Teamsters run a nuke plant.  Corrupt criminals.

flattrader's picture

>>>Sad because the Yakuza will destroy or has destroyed Japan.<<<

Gawd, Freddie.  You are a moron.  Building the nuke plant was the mistake, not who operates it or who does the "clean-up."

Globally, we've made that mistake more than 100 times.

Get a clue.

Tijuana Donkey Show's picture

Unions build jobs buddy, jobs. If that happened in America, it would be some Haliburton contract staffed by illegal aliens (Mexican, not space) who would be deported when they get sick from the "fallout." Just look at how the meatpacking industry works. In America, we call the Yakuzia "MBA's and private equity," which by my research, operate nearly the same. The Yakuza at least look out for orphans, and old people as a token gesture, while the MBA's sell them cat food. Maybe MBA's would be cooler if they had swords like the Yakuza, but alas, they only roll hard with term sheets and PE ratios.

Kimo's picture

When criminals go corrupt.... is there nothing sacred???

Dr. Sandi's picture

We demand more lawful evil!

Element's picture

That must have been quite a blow ... to hear the truth.

nmewn's picture

I've often wondered what a population would do when everything they had ever been told or trusted...was a lie.

Amid the unintended consequences of the best & brightest among us, out of this chaos, a chance for new life.

Element's picture

What would happen is the general prole mind would go into lock/reset and need a bailout from the ministry of truth.

SamAdams's picture

This could be it for Japan for quite some time.  Almost seems like black ops, but never doubt the official story.  For example, gun control is the answer, it has always been the answer. 

Tijuana Donkey Show's picture

They go back to their Ipads, and watch Fox (Hates Jews) News. 

SamAdams's picture

FOX handlers hate anyone who is not actively working toward the endgame.   

Joe moneybags's picture

That sure was a long informercial for the author's book.

Chartist's picture

Honestly, who cares?  Other than Tokyo, the country of Japan is a throw away island of a nation. 

blackbeardz's picture

yea, WHO CARES?!!?

-The fkn pacific ocean cares, where an estimated 100 tons of water per day is leaching from the coriums deep under the ground

-oh yea, the northern hemisphere is a little concerned when the next big quake damages the SFP4 and radiates ur ass to hell

-all the children in USA who will develop many forms of cancer in the next 20 years from plutonium,cesium,blahblahblah exposure(too long of a list)

almost 2 YRS into the 3-11 Fuku disaster and its still leaking and no end in site, if u live long enough (who cares) you will care.

flattrader's picture

Chartist is another idiot like Freddie who thinks radiation respects borders (or in Freddie's case discriminates between Democrats and Republicans.

Like I've said before, with moronic thinking like this, I won't know who to pont the gun at when the time comes.

But, I'm sure I'll figure it out.

SamAdams's picture

Between irradiated Western Salmon and Crab and the mutated Gulf shrimp, it's impossible to get a good sushi roll these days.  Better stick to ramen noodles...

Kimo's picture

so start positioning your portfolio! 


West coast REITS, go short. (whoops, done that already)

West coast health care, go long. (whoops, done that already)

East coast finance, go long. (whoops, done that already)

Move my ass?.... oh well, put that one off..


EnslavethechildrenforBen's picture

Can you spell d-e-v-a-l-u-a-t-i-o-n