by Robert Parry – Consortium News
Ready for Nuclear War over Ukraine?
Not Since Adolf Hitler
No European government, since Adolf Hitler’s Germany, has seen fit to dispatch Nazi storm troopers to wage war on a domestic population, but the Kiev regime has and has done so knowingly. Yet, across the West’s media/political spectrum, there has been a studious effort to cover up this reality, even to the point of ignoring facts that have been well established.
The Nazi Reality
Regarding the Azov battalion, the Post and Times have sought to bury the Nazi reality, but both have also acknowledged it in passing. For instance, on Aug. 10, 2014, a Times’ article mentioned the neo-Nazi nature of the Azov battalion in the last three paragraphs of a lengthy story on another topic.
“The fighting for Donetsk has taken on a lethal pattern: The regular army bombards separatist positions from afar, followed by chaotic, violent assaults by some of the half-dozen or so paramilitary groups surrounding Donetsk who are willing to plunge into urban combat,” the Times reported.
“Officials in Kiev say the militias and the army coordinate their actions, but the militias, which count about 7,000 fighters, are angry and, at times, uncontrollable. One known as Azov, which took over the village of Marinka, flies a neo-Nazi symbol resembling a Swastika as its flag.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “NYT Whites Out Ukraine’s Brownshirts.”]Similarly, the Post published a lead story last Sept. 12 describing the Azov battalion in flattering terms, saving for the last three paragraphs the problematic reality that the fighters are fond of displaying the Swastika:
An Orwellian World
In a “normal world,” U.S. and European journalists would explain to their readers how insane all this is; how a dispute over the pace for implementing a European association agreement while also maintaining some economic ties with Russia could have been worked out within the Ukrainian political system, that it was not grounds for a U.S.-backed “regime change” last February, let alone a civil war, and surely not nuclear war.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). You also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.
[The following was sent by a reader of the site. I sympathize with Al, but, for a man with his varied political interests, one would think that his disillusionment with the left would have set in during Obama’s first term. I have two suggestions–stop reading anyone related to the London School, and look for different sources (Chossudofsky banned me from Global Research years ago). You have been officially marginalized. You will have zero chance of being heard, unless you manage to arrange a very public heckling arrest. If that happens, let me know and I will let others know. Peter]
RAGE—because there is no rage
By Yoichi Shimatsu
Exclusvie to Rense
Clashes over energy in Ukraine between the West and Russia could prompt another Chernobyl-type accident or a catastrophe on the order of a Fukushima that will complete the nuclear devastation of the Northern Hemisphere. As news media fixate on conflicts over pipelines that supply Europe with Russian gas, another energy war is erupting over control of Ukraine’s nuclear-power industry, which generates half that nation’s electricity.
Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenuk’s campaign for “energy independence” from Russian-sourced natural gas and nuclear fuel is not a study in cost control, economic security or even national sovereignty. His corporate-giveaway policies are actually a concession to Western energy interests in return for their influence over the EU, which can provide loans to avert an imminent default on Kiev’s debt to the IMF and World Bank. With an annual budget shortfall of $15 billion and a currency collapse, Ukraine is staggering under external sovereign debt estimated at between $140 and $200 billion.
The IMF and World Bank have halted further transfers of loan tranches to Kiev, which is now unable to make payments on its gas imports from Russia. Kiev policymakers are therefore desperately looking to expand their nuclear industry. Unfortunately two recent accidents at its largest nuclear-power plant highlight the serious risks to a nation still grappling with the long-term effects of the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown.
Boom and Bust
In stark contrast with eco-conscious capitals across Europe, Kiev is unable to resist foreign demands to adopt the Texan model of boom-and-bust energy extraction. Chevron and Shell have launched fracking projects to tap shale-oil deposits across Ukraine, but exploration and revenues have been delayed by the fierce fighting in the Donetsk region.
Ukraine also possesses one of Europe’s few exploitable uranium reserves in its Kirovograd and Dnipropetrovsk regions, now being targeted by the French nuclear giant AREVA in cooperation with local partner VostGOK.
An ongoing series of nuclear-fuel deals between Toshiba-Westinghouse and Ukraine energy monopoly Energoatom is aimed at severing Kiev’s reliance on Russian technology and Kazakh uranium. The competition to supply the global market for MOX (mixed oxides of uranium and plutonium) is pitting a consortium of Westinghouse, AREVA and their US suppliers against their Moscow-based rival Rusatom and nuclear-engineering firm TVE.
Beset by losses of orders from Japan, the AREVA MOX fabrication plant in France is facing a new and strong challenge from the Rusatom pellet facility in Krasnoyarsk, western Siberia, which has replaced the aging Mayak fuel plant.
To reduce stockpiles of plutonium-laced spent fuel rods stored inside power plants, the global nuclear industry is pushing to introduce advanced prototypes of fast-breeder reactors, which burn a variety of nuclear fuels including plutonium. Rusatom is producing MOX pellets for a next-generation fast-breeder to start operation this year at Beloyarskaya. The Russian design is the chief rival for next-generation breeder reactors being developed by the French ASTRID program in the Rhone region and the Hitachi-GE Horizon project along Britain’s Irish Sea coast.
In this global race to revive the fortunes of the nuclear industry, Chernobyl and the ongoing Fukushima cataclysm spewing radioactive waste into the jet stream over Europe have all but been forgotten.
Salvaging Savannah River
The powerful explosion of MOX fuel rods at Reactor 3 in Fukushima nearly four years ago prompted Britain to close its Sellafield MOX fuel-rod production facility and convinced the Department of Energy to suspend construction on the US mixed-oxide project in Savannah River, South Carolina. These setbacks for the US-UK nuclear industry left the AREVA’s Mercoule facility in the southern French region of Languedoc-Roussillon as the only MOX producer in the West.
Ulterior motives lurk behind the Ukraine sales pitch. The year-end push by Toshiba-Westinghouse to supply nuclear fuel to Kiev is a backhanded tactic to overturn the DOE decision to halt construction on the Savannah River MOX fuel fabrication facility. Anti-Moscow rhetoric and geopolitical arguments for switching Ukraine to Western-based energy systems (fracking, tanker-delivered oil imports and MOX fuel) bolster the odds for congressional funding to complete the Savannah River MOX facility.
Started in 1999 to dispose of plutonium from warheads under nuclear-weapons reductions agreed between Washington and Moscow, the MOX plant has already cost taxpayers $4 billion while an added $3.8 billion in project overruns is the low estimate before the operations are scheduled to begin in 2019. Unfortunately for Toshiba-Westinghouse, the main arguments against completing Savannah River are based on security questions.
Since the planning stage, nonproliferation experts have come to recognize the threat of plutonium being hijacked from DOE facilities, as happened in the 2008 covert operation by Israeli agents at the PANTEX warhead-dismantling plant in Amarillo, Texas. (This investigative journalist penned an in-depth article on the PANTEX heist and the murder of CIA contract inspector Roland Carnaby.)
The technological factor behind abandoning MOX for nonproliferation purposes was the introduction of laser-extraction systems that enable nuclear engineers to efficiently remove pure plutonium from spent MOX fuel rods. Nations with nuclear-weapons ambitions just have to place an order for MOX fuel to obtain high-grade plutonium.
A Bridge Too Far
To anyone with a rational mind, shipping nuclear fuel to the land of Chernobyl might seem not only criminal and unethical but also an act of sheer madness. Yet, under a 2008 contract, Westinghouse (which is majority-owned by Toshiba), has already started supplying uranium fuel assemblies to three reactors at the South Ukraine nuclear plant.
What’s profitable for the nuclear industry in the US and Japan is toxic for the EU, particularly its more environmental and anti-nuclear member-nations including Germany and Austria, which will have no choice but to accept this legal precedent for continent-wide fracking and a revival of nuclear power.
Ukraine serves as the bridgehead for US-Japanese takeover of the European energy industry, but it is a “bridge too far” because the strong possibility of a Fukushima-type MOX fuel explosion at its aging nuclear plants would exterminate all of Europe.
The European public should find little reassurance in that fact that Toshiba built the Fukushima Reactor 3, which blew apart in a mushroom cloud sending microparticles of plutonium as far as Scandinavia and the French Alps. Now the very same company responsible for Fukushima radiation spreading to Europe is toying around in the EU’s backyard.
A coalition of AREVA and Toshiba-Westinghouse have been lobbying the Parliament in Kiev to approve construction of a western-designed nuclear-power plant in Ukraine’s Black Sea region. According to an Energy Ministry press releases in June, “a new concept for the development of nuclear power is expected to be adopted and will include the technical and financial aspects of the construction of new power units, as well as advancing plans for a fuel fabrication plant and a waste repository.”
No doubt Ukrainian nationalists might rejoice at the sudden prospects of Kiev regaining its nuclear-weapons production capability, which was surrendered to Washington’s nonproliferation soon after its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. That proud national aspiration, in the cold light of geopolitics, will remain only a dream. Any nuclear deterrence will be provided by NATO missile launch pads and bomber airfields, transforming Ukraine into a battlefield and radioactive graveyard. Instead of gaining real independence, Ukraine has sadly reverted to its traditional place as a brutal buffer zone.
The truth is bitter, indeed. Ukraine is getting a raw deal. The proposed high-level waste repository is the predictable price for steep discounts on nuclear technology shipped in modules onto the docks at Odessa along with casks of spent fuel. Japan is in dire need of a foreign nuclear-waste dump, especially for its damaged Fukushima fuel rods, following rebuffs from Russia, China and Mongolia. The US, also straddled with decades of spent-fuel rods, needs an alternative to the canceled Yucca Mountain repository site. Thus, under this unsavory “international partnership”, Toshiba-Westinghouse and AREVA make the profits while Ukraine gets stuck with piles of nuclear waste.
At this point in time, the easiest way to dump nuclear waste is to provide unsuspecting nations with MOX fuel rods, which actually a repository for surplus plutonium. The Energy Ministry’s “new concept of nuclear power” and a proposed “fuel fabrication plant” are code words for the planned conversion of the Russian-built VVER pressurized water reactors for MOX fuel rods. Retrofitting has sizable risks, as shown at Fukushima.
Westinghouse has recently negotiated a deal with to provide an undisclosed type of nuclear fuel for two additional reactors to be built at Energoatom’s Khmelnitsky plant in northwest Ukraine. The deal eliminates fuel rods from Russian nuclear-engineering company TVE, the main contractor for plant construction which operates its own mine and fuel plant in Kazakhstan.
Since then Energoatom director Natalia Shumkova stated the company might start shipping its nuclear waste to the AREVA recycling facility in La Hague, France. AREVA states that its facility separates uranium (95%) and plutonium(1%) as ingredients in new fuels. MOX, in short, is garbage fuel.
The 15 reactors in Ukraine’s four nuclear plants have Russian-designed VVER (pressurized water) reactors of the type that can be converted from enriched uranium to MOX fuel rods. The problem is that many of the Russian-built reactors have reached their 4-decade lifetime limit and are now in permanent disrepair, a fact underscored by shutdowns at the giant Zaporozhye nuclear-power plant’s Reactor 3 in late November and at its Reactor 6 a month later.
Energoatom reported the causes of both accidents as minor electrical problems and denied late November reports from a Baltic monitoring station of wide-ranging atmospheric radiation releases. Also ignored were reports from the nearby Donetsk area, where surges in radiation levels were detected at the end of December. The Ukraine nuclear industry must have adopted the TEPCO standards for public disinformation. Or perhaps lying about the dangers of radiation is a homegrown legacy of Chernobyl.
One last point needs to be considered as a spur toward civil peace in unfortunate Ukraine: Zaporozhye with its six reactors is the largest nuclear plant in Europe and lies within easy artillery and rocket range of the battle lines in eastern Ukraine. Collateral damage or a plane crash onto Plant Z would make Chernobyl seem like a picnic in the countryside.
Yoichi Shimatsu is a Hong Kong-based science journalist and environmental consultant who has conducted radiation studies inside the Fukushima exclusion zone and the Hanford and San Onofre nuclear plants.
Japan’s Kafkaesque Special Secret Protection Bill threatens to destroy freedom of speech
A committee within Japan’s lower house is currently deliberating a new bill that will punish leakers of designated “special” state secrets. The LDP Cabinet recently approved a bill to punish civil servants, lawmakers, and journalists who leak information that it deems will harm national security. The government will be able to determine what they will call “special secret”— almost without limit— because the definition of these possible secrets are “too broad and vague”, according to critics of the new bill. The Abe administration says that the secrecy bill is necessary to protect sensitive information given to Japan by the United States and other foreign countries.
Four lawmakers from four different political parties, briefed reporters today on the dangers of the Designated Secrets Bill at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan (FCCJ). Earlier this week, the FCCJ issued a strong statement of opposition to the bill as well.
Mizuho Fukushima, leader of the Social Democratic Party and wife of a famous anti-nuclear lawyer explained, “This bill represents a great threat to journalism.” A citizen or journalist investigating an arbitrarily declared state secret who reveals it could be prosecuted and jailed for up to 10 years. “The criteria for prosecuting an individual are too vague,” she added. “If a journalist or a member of an NGO accidentally overheard a state secret, he/she would be prosecuted.” Fukushima explained that if a lawmaker got hold of a state secret and wants to reveal it, he/she could also be prosecuted.
“A citizen or journalist investigating an arbitrarily declared state secret who revealed it could be prosecuted and jailed for up to 10 years.”
Article 19, an organization based in the U.K. and the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan have both issued a declaration earlier this week to urge Japan’s National Diet to reject the pending Secrecy Bill, as it “unreasonably” violates international standards on freedom of expression and the right to information.
The FCCJ statement admonished the Japanese government that investigative journalism is “not a crime, but rather a crucial part of the checks-and-balances that go hand-in-hand with democracy.” Fukushima added that from the standards of the international community, the drafted Japanese bill has too many flaws. Freedom and human rights were suppressed under Japan’s military government’s rule before and during World War II, she pointed out, and discussed how this bill represents a regression for Japan. As the definition of secrecy is “too vague,” there would be a possibility that the government haphazardly restricts the general public’s knowledge by designating anything embarrassing for the ruling powers a “state secret.”
Sohei Nihi, from Japan’s Communist Party said that the “most dangerous aspect of this bill” is that the average person will not be informed that a particular piece of information has been designated as a secret. “The Japanese people would be ignorant of these secrets and the bill will lead to a general suppression or reluctance of people to seek for information, ” he added. Considering the huge amount of opposition to this bill, the ruling party inserted a clause, which says that “there will be due consideration given to people’s right to know and journalists’ right to research and seek information.” However the seeking of information will have to be done in an “appropriate manner,” (正当な行為) and it is questionable and unclear by who and how will this “appropriate manner” be determined. As a result of some deliberation within the Diet committee, it was decided that the courts would make the fundamental decisions and the individual targeted could be subject to arrest and interrogation before a case is even brought to court. In effect, the law will work as presumed guilty until proven guilty.
The “most dangerous aspects of this bill” is that the average person will not be informed that a particular piece of information has been designated as a secret
Of course, exceptions would be made to individuals not aware of holding information classified as a state secret who make it public. “This sounds good in theory but who and how will it be determined that the leaker really wasn’t aware in advance before disclosing a state secret?” Sohei Nihi pointed out. “The government could force the individual to confess, as this kind of practice has taken place in Japan in the past,” he added. Ryo Shuhama, member of the upper house and representative of the People’s Life Party said that the general public was seriously concerned about this bill. According to some newspapers polls about 30% of the Japanese population favor the bill, 42% are against the bill, 68% have concerns over the definition of “secrecy” could be eventually expended, and 64% feel that this bill should not be passed in this current Diet session.
Taro Yamamoto, actor turned lawmaker last summer, is well known for his anti-nuclear stances and his audacious behavior. Yamamoto breeched imperial etiquette last month by handing a letter to the Japanese emperor in the middle of a royal garden party to which he was invited. Yamamoto, who was one of the first politicians to point out the harms of the secrecy bill even before it changed its name from “secrecy preservation law” to “secrecy law,” said that the bill is basically already in effect. He explained a situation in which the authorities told him that information regarding nuclear facilities exported to Vietnam could not be revealed. According to Yamamoto, the government spent the equivalent of 2.5 million dollars in securing a deal to export nuclear technology to Vietnam—tax money that was taken out of the reconstruction budget for earthquake and nuclear accident ravaged northern Japan.
“There is already a great deal of secrecy preservation in Japan,” he said. Yamamoto said that the government is truly trying to increase the power of the state and that the secrecy bill will eventually lead to the oppression of the average person and freedom of expression. “The path that Japan is taking is the recreation of a fascist state. I strongly believe that this secrecy bill represents a planned coup d’état by a group of politicians and bureaucrats,” he warned.
The secrecy bill has been compared to the peace preservation law (治安維持法) that passed in the period before World War II. Mizuho Fukushima explained that when that law passed it was not considered to be a frightening or threatening law. However, once people started to be arrested, it had a chilling effect on media, citizens’ groups and the general population. During the military rule and the war years in Japan, laws and rules were strengthened so that towards the end, it is said that even weather reports were considered state secrets. There was a famous case involving a young student in Hokkaido (the Miyazawa case) who happened to reveal the location of a particular airport to a foreigner and was sent to prison for divulging a state secret. “Once you open the door to such kind of laws, the government will have the right to designate anything as a state secret and by speaking about it or mentioning it, you can be arrested and prosecuted.” Fukushima explained, “Especially during war time, it was very difficult for defendants and lawyers to fight their court cases, because they were not told what exactly what was the state secret that they had been accused of having revealed.” she added.
“The path that Japan is taking is the recreation of a fascist state. I strongly believe that this secrecy bill represents a planned coup d’état by a group of politicians and bureaucrats”
Homeless recruited for Fukushima at minimum wages
* Labor brokers skim their pay; charge for food, shelter
* Some say better homeless than going into debt by working
* Little oversight on companies getting clean-up contracts
* Gangsters run Fukushima labour brokers; arrests made
By Mari Saito and Antoni Slodkowski
SENDAI, Japan, Dec. 30 (Reuters) – Seiji Sasa hits the train station in this northern Japanese city before dawn most mornings to prowl for homeless men.
He isn’t a social worker. He’s a recruiter. The men in Sendai Station are potential laborers that Sasa can dispatch to contractors in Japan’s nuclear disaster zone for a bounty of $100 a head.
“This is how labor recruiters like me come in every day,” Sasa says, as he strides past men sleeping on cardboard and clutching at their coats against the early winter cold.
It’s also how Japan finds people willing to accept minimum wage for one of the most undesirable jobs in the industrialized world: working on the $35 billion, taxpayer-funded effort to clean up radioactive fallout across an area of northern Japan larger than Hong Kong.
Almost three years ago, a massive earthquake and tsunami leveled villages across Japan’s northeast coast and set off multiple meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear plant. Today, the most ambitious radiation clean-up ever attempted is running behind schedule. The effort is being dogged by both a lack of oversight and a shortage of workers, according to a Reuters analysis of contracts and interviews with dozens of those involved.
In January, October and November, Japanese gangsters were arrested on charges of infiltrating construction giant Obayashi Corp’s network of decontamination subcontractors and illegally sending workers to the government-funded project.
In the October case, homeless men were rounded up at Sendai’s train station by Sasa, then put to work clearing radioactive soil and debris in Fukushima City for less than minimum wage, according to police and accounts of those involved. The men reported up through a chain of three other companies to Obayashi, Japan’s second-largest construction company.
Obayashi, which is one of more than 20 major contractors involved in government-funded radiation removal projects, has not been accused of any wrongdoing. But the spate of arrests has shown that members of Japan’s three largest criminal syndicates – Yamaguchi-gumi, Sumiyoshi-kai and Inagawa-kai – had set up black-market recruiting agencies under Obayashi.
“We are taking it very seriously that these incidents keep happening one after another,” said Junichi Ichikawa, a spokesman for Obayashi. He said the company tightened its scrutiny of its lower-tier subcontractors in order to shut out gangsters, known as the yakuza. “There were elements of what we had been doing that did not go far enough.”
OVERSIGHT LEFT TO TOP CONTRACTORS
Part of the problem in monitoring taxpayer money in Fukushima is the sheer number of companies involved in decontamination, extending from the major contractors at the top to tiny subcontractors many layers below them. The total number has not been announced. But in the 10 most contaminated towns and a highway that runs north past the gates of the wrecked plant in Fukushima, Reuters found 733 companies were performing work for the Ministry of Environment, according to partial contract terms released by the ministry in August under Japan’s information disclosure law.
Reuters found 56 subcontractors listed on environment ministry contracts worth a total of $2.5 billion in the most radiated areas of Fukushima that would have been barred from traditional public works because they had not been vetted by the construction ministry.
The 2011 law that regulates decontamination put control under the environment ministry, the largest spending program ever managed by the 10-year-old agency. The same law also effectively loosened controls on bidders, making it possible for firms to win radiation removal contracts without the basic disclosure and certification required for participating in public works such as road construction.
Reuters also found five firms working for the Ministry of Environment that could not be identified. They had no construction ministry registration, no listed phone number or website, and Reuters could not find a basic corporate registration disclosing ownership. There was also no record of the firms in the database of Japan’s largest credit research firm, Teikoku Databank.
“As a general matter, in cases like this, we would have to start by looking at whether a company like this is real,” said Shigenobu Abe, a researcher at Teikoku Databank. “After that, it would be necessary to look at whether this is an active company and at the background of its executive and directors.”
Responsibility for monitoring the hiring, safety records and suitability of hundreds of small firms involved in Fukushima’s decontamination rests with the top contractors, including Kajima Corp, Taisei Corp and Shimizu Corp, officials said.
“In reality, major contractors manage each work site,” said Hide Motonaga, deputy director of the radiation clean-up division of the environment ministry.
But, as a practical matter, many of the construction companies involved in the clean-up say it is impossible to monitor what is happening on the ground because of the multiple layers of contracts for each job that keep the top contractors removed from those doing the work.
“If you started looking at every single person, the project wouldn’t move forward. You wouldn’t get a tenth of the people you need,” said Yukio Suganuma, president of Aisogo Service, a construction company that was hired in 2012 to clean up radioactive fallout from streets in the town of Tamura.
The sprawl of small firms working in Fukushima is an unintended consequence of Japan’s legacy of tight labor-market regulations combined with the aging population’s deepening shortage of workers. Japan’s construction companies cannot afford to keep a large payroll and dispatching temporary workers to construction sites is prohibited. As a result, smaller firms step into the gap, promising workers in exchange for a cut of their wages.
Below these official subcontractors, a shadowy network of gangsters and illegal brokers who hire homeless men has also become active in Fukushima. Ministry of Environment contracts in the most radioactive areas of Fukushima prefecture are particularly lucrative because the government pays an additional $100 in hazard allowance per day for each worker.
Takayoshi Igarashi, a lawyer and professor at Hosei University, said the initial rush to find companies for decontamination was understandable in the immediate aftermath of the disaster when the priority was emergency response. But he said the government now needs to tighten its scrutiny to prevent a range of abuses, including bid rigging.
“There are many unknown entities getting involved in decontamination projects,” said Igarashi, a former advisor to ex-Prime Minister Naoto Kan. “There needs to be a thorough check on what companies are working on what, and when. I think it’s probably completely lawless if the top contractors are not thoroughly checking.”
The Ministry of Environment announced on Thursday that work on the most contaminated sites would take two to three years longer than the original March 2014 deadline. That means many of the more than 60,000 who lived in the area before the disaster will remain unable to return home until six years after the disaster.
Earlier this month, Abe, who pledged his government would “take full responsibility for the rebirth of Fukushima” boosted the budget for decontamination to $35 billion, including funds to create a facility to store radioactive soil and other waste near the wrecked nuclear plant.
‘DON’T ASK QUESTIONS’
Japan has always had a gray market of day labor centered in Tokyo and Osaka. A small army of day laborers was employed to build the stadiums and parks for the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. But over the past year, Sendai, the biggest city in the disaster zone, has emerged as a hiring hub for homeless men. Many work clearing rubble left behind by the 2011 tsunami and cleaning up radioactive hotspots by removing topsoil, cutting grass and scrubbing down houses around the destroyed nuclear plant, workers and city officials say.
Seiji Sasa, 67, a broad-shouldered former wrestling promoter, was photographed by undercover police recruiting homeless men at the Sendai train station to work in the nuclear cleanup. The workers were then handed off through a chain of companies reporting up to Obayashi, as part of a $1.4 million contract to decontaminate roads in Fukushima, police say.
“I don’t ask questions; that’s not my job,” Sasa said in an interview with Reuters. “I just find people and send them to work. I send them and get money in exchange. That’s it. I don’t get involved in what happens after that.”
Only a third of the money allocated for wages by Obayashi’s top contractor made it to the workers Sasa had found. The rest was skimmed by middlemen, police say. After deductions for food and lodging, that left workers with an hourly rate of about $6, just below the minimum wage equal to about $6.50 per hour in Fukushima, according to wage data provided by police. Some of the homeless men ended up in debt after fees for food and housing were deducted, police say.
Sasa was arrested in November and released without being charged. Police were after his client, Mitsunori Nishimura, a local Inagawa-kai gangster. Nishimura housed workers in cramped dorms on the edge of Sendai and skimmed an estimated $10,000 of public funding intended for their wages each month, police say.
Nishimura, who could not be reached for comment, was arrested and paid a $2,500 fine. Nishimura is widely known in Sendai. Seiryu Home, a shelter funded by the city, had sent other homeless men to work for him on recovery jobs after the 2011 disaster.
“He seemed like such a nice guy,” said Yota Iozawa, a shelter manager. “It was bad luck. I can’t investigate everything about every company.”
In the incident that prompted his arrest, Nishimura placed his workers with Shinei Clean, a company with about 15 employees based on a winding farm road south of Sendai. Police turned up there to arrest Shinei’s president, Toshiaki Osada, after a search of his office, according to Tatsuya Shoji, who is both Osada’s nephew and a company manager. Shinei had sent dump trucks to sort debris from the disaster. “Everyone is involved in sending workers,” said Shoji. “I guess we just happened to get caught this time.”
Osada, who could not be reached for comment, was fined about $5,000. Shinei was also fined about $5,000.
‘RUN BY GANGS’
The trail from Shinei led police to a slightly larger neighboring company with about 30 employees, Fujisai Couken. Fujisai says it was under pressure from a larger contractor, Raito Kogyo, to provide workers for Fukushima. Kenichi Sayama, Fujisai’s general manger, said his company only made about $10 per day per worker it outsourced. When the job appeared to be going too slowly, Fujisai asked Shinei for more help and they turned to Nishimura.
A Fujisai manager, Fuminori Hayashi, was arrested and paid a $5,000 fine, police said. Fujisai also paid a $5,000 fine.
“If you don’t get involved (with gangs), you’re not going to get enough workers,” said Sayama, Fujisai’s general manager. “The construction industry is 90 percent run by gangs.”
Raito Kogyo, a top-tier subcontractor to Obayashi, has about 300 workers in decontamination projects around Fukushima and owns subsidiaries in both Japan and the United States. Raito agreed that the project faced a shortage of workers but said it had been deceived. Raito said it was unaware of a shadow contractor under Fujisai tied to organized crime.
“We can only check on lower-tier subcontractors if they are honest with us,” said Tomoyuki Yamane, head of marketing for Raito. Raito and Obayashi were not accused of any wrongdoing and were not penalized.
Other firms receiving government contracts in the decontamination zone have hired homeless men from Sasa, including Shuto Kogyo, a firm based in Himeji, western Japan.
“He sends people in, but they don’t stick around for long,” said Fujiko Kaneda, 70, who runs Shuto with her son, Seiki Shuto. “He gathers people in front of the station and sends them to our dorm.”
Kaneda invested about $600,000 to cash in on the reconstruction boom. Shuto converted an abandoned roadhouse north of Sendai into a dorm to house workers on reconstruction jobs such as clearing tsunami debris. The company also won two contracts awarded by the Ministry of Environment to clean up two of the most heavily contaminated townships.
Kaneda had been arrested in 2009 along with her son, Seiki, for charging illegally high interest rates on loans to pensioners. Kaneda signed an admission of guilt for police, a document she says she did not understand, and paid a fine of $8,000. Seiki was given a sentence of two years prison time suspended for four years and paid a $20,000 fine, according to police. Seiki declined to comment.
UNPAID WAGE CLAIMS
In Fukushima, Shuto has faced at least two claims with local labor regulators over unpaid wages, according to Kaneda. In a separate case, a 55-year-old homeless man reported being paid the equivalent of $10 for a full month of work at Shuto. The worker’s paystub, reviewed by Reuters, showed charges for food, accommodation and laundry were docked from his monthly pay equivalent to about $1,500, leaving him with $10 at the end of the August.
The man turned up broke and homeless at Sendai Station in October after working for Shuto, but disappeared soon afterwards, according to Yasuhiro Aoki, a Baptist pastor and homeless advocate.
Kaneda confirmed the man had worked for her but said she treats her workers fairly. She said Shuto Kogyo pays workers at least $80 for a day’s work while docking the equivalent of $35 for food. Many of her workers end up borrowing from her to make ends meet, she said. One of them had owed her $20,000 before beginning work in Fukushima, she says. The balance has come down recently, but then he borrowed another $2,000 for the year-end holidays.
“He will never be able to pay me back,” she said.
The problem of workers running themselves into debt is widespread. “Many homeless people are just put into dormitories, and the fees for lodging and food are automatically docked from their wages,” said Aoki, the pastor. “Then at the end of the month, they’re left with no pay at all.”
Shizuya Nishiyama, 57, says he briefly worked for Shuto clearing rubble. He now sleeps on a cardboard box in Sendai Station. He says he left after a dispute over wages, one of several he has had with construction firms, including two handling decontamination jobs.
Nishiyama’s first employer in Sendai offered him $90 a day for his first job clearing tsunami debris. But he was made to pay as much as $50 a day for food and lodging. He also was not paid on the days he was unable to work. On those days, though, he would still be charged for room and board. He decided he was better off living on the street than going into debt.
“We’re an easy target for recruiters,” Nishiyama said. “We turn up here with all our bags, wheeling them around and we’re easy to spot. They say to us, are you looking for work? Are you hungry? And if we haven’t eaten, they offer to find us a job.”