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The Yakuza’s Cleanup Crew: It’s Not What You Think But Still Alarming

Organized criminal networks could be thought of as a coven of keepers of well guarded secrets. Powerful, profitable well guarded secrets. The organized “system” works because only “need to know” people know about it. It’s like Scientology, minus the actual Scientology. That’s sort of how militaries and governments work, where the most powerful and dangerous information and capabilities are compartmentalized in a hierarchical manner. Some mafias are quasi-legal and part of the government officially or unofficially:

The Daily Beast
The Death and Legacy of Yakuza Boss ‘Mr. Gorilla’

For years Yoshinori Watanabe (aka ‘Mr. Gorilla’) ran Japan’s most powerful and successful yakuza group. Jake Adelstein on his mysterious death over the weekend—and his legacy of modern and ruthless management of the crime syndicate.
Dec 3, 2012 5:54 PM EST
Jake Adelstein

Watanabe was found collapsed at his home in Kobe on Saturday, by his family; his death was confirmed the same day. A memorial service was held for him Monday. The cause of death is unknown, but he allegedly had been in poor health for years.

Watanabe became the fifth head of the Yamaguchi-gumi in 1989 after a four-year gang war between the Yamaguchi-gumi and the Ichiwa-kai, which had split off from the main group. Watanabe, in a move to encourage Ichiwa-kai members to return to the fold, is credited with introducing a pension plan to the Yamaguchi-gumi that promised to take care of retired “employees,” much like major Japanese corporations. Watanabe was a highly intelligent gangster, but because of his slightly simian facial features, he was known amongst some police officers and some yakuza affectionately as “Mr. Gorilla”.

Watanabe was a charismatic leader and a good businessman. By keeping the association dues low and through aggressive gang wars and leveraged peace treaties with rival gangs, he expanded the organization to become Japan’s largest organized crime group; by 2004, the Yamaguchi-gumi headquarters was collecting nearly $25 million per year in association dues alone, according to police files. In the book The Business Management Methods of the Yamaguchi-gumi (2005), by yakuza expert Atsushi Mizoguchi, Watanabe succinctly explains the secret of his organized crime management: “Absolute Unity. Retaliation. Silence. Appropriate rewards and punishments, and judicious use of violence.”

However, during his reign, problems also emerged. Anti-yakuza legislation went on the books (1992) and legal precedents were set that gradually forced the yakuza underground. In a civil lawsuit over the shooting death of a policeman in a gang conflict that involved the Yamaguchi-gumi, Watanabe was effectively ordered by Japan’s Supreme Count to pay damages of about 80 million yen in 2004. This was the first time the courts recognized a Yakuza boss’s “employer liability.”

Watanabe was a folk hero in Kobe, the town where he died, after organizing relief efforts and providing food, water, and essential supplies to the locals after the Great Hanshin Earthquake in January of 1995.

Under Watanabe’s successor, Shinobu Tsukasa, the Yamaguchi-gumi absorbed the Tokyo-based Kokusui-kai in 2005, giving them a strong base in eastern Japan. By 2007 the Yamaguchi-gumi had effectively put the Inagawa-kai under their umbrella, making them the Walmart of Japanese organized crime with more than half of the total yakuza (79,000) being under their control.

Note the references to the Yamaguchi-guchi’s pension plan for its “employees” as well as the “employer liability” legal ruling that forced the Yamaguch-guchi clan to pay a fine in 2005 after one of its “employees” killed a police officer. The yakuza’s employment efforts will be highly relevant in excerpts below. Their disaster relief efforts are also going to be highlighted. As evidenced by the yakuza’s post-earthquake/tsunami/nuclear meltdown actions, the yakuza are a lot like a corrupt political party in many ways but one difference is that the yakuza’s awful attempts at populist folksiness actually involve helping people sometimes:

The Daily Beast
Yakuza to the Rescue
Even Japan’s infamous mafia groups are helping out with the relief efforts and showing a strain of civic duty. Jake Adelstein reports on why the police don’t want you to know about it.

Mar 18, 2011 5:00 AM EDT
Jake Adelstein

The worst of times sometimes brings out the best in people, even in Japan’s “losers” a.k.a. the Japanese mafia, the yakuza. Hours after the first shock waves hit, two of the largest crime groups went into action, opening their offices to those stranded in Tokyo, and shipping food, water, and blankets to the devastated areas in two-ton trucks and whatever vehicles they could get moving. The day after the earthquake the Inagawa-kai (the third largest organized crime group in Japan which was founded in 1948) sent twenty-five four-ton trucks filled with paper diapers, instant ramen, batteries, flashlights, drinks, and the essentials of daily life to the Tohoku region. An executive in Sumiyoshi-kai, the second-largest crime group, even offered refuge to members of the foreign community—something unheard of in a still slightly xenophobic nation, especially amongst the right-wing yakuza. The Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan’s largest crime group, under the leadership of Tadashi Irie, has also opened its offices across the country to the public and been sending truckloads of supplies, but very quietly and without any fanfare.

The Inagawa-kai has been the most active because it has strong roots in the areas hit. It has several “blocks” or regional groups. Between midnight on March 12th and the early morning of March 13th, the Inagawa-kai Tokyo block carried 50 tons of supplies to Hitachinaka City Hall (Hitachinaka City, Ibaraki Prefecture) and dropped them off, careful not to mention their yakuza affiliation so that the donations weren’t rejected. This was the beginning of their humanitarian efforts. Supplies included cup ramen, bean sprouts, paper diapers, tea and drinking water. The drive from Tokyo took them twelve hours. They went through back roads to get there. The Kanagawa Block of the Inagawa-kai, has sent 70 trucks to the Ibaraki and Fukushima areas to drop off supplies in areas with high radiations levels. They didn’t keep track of how many tons of supplies they moved. The Inagawa-kai as a whole has moved over 100 tons of supplies to the Tohoku region. They have been going into radiated areas without any protection or potassium iodide.

The Yamaguchi-gumi member I spoke with said simply, “Please don’t say any more than we are doing our best to help. Right now, no one wants to be associated with us and we’d hate to have our donations rejected out of hand.”

To those not familiar with the yakuza, it may come as a shock to hear of their philanthropy, but this is not the first time that they have displayed a humanitarian impulse. In 1995, after the Kobe earthquake, the Yamaguchi-gumi was one of the most responsive forces on the ground, quickly getting supplies to the affected areas and distributing them to the local people. Admittedly, much of those supplies were paid with by money from years of shaking down the people in the area, and they were certainly not unaware of the public relations factor—but no one can deny that they were helpful when people needed aid—as they are this time as well.

It may seem puzzling that the yakuza, which are organized crime groups, deriving their principal revenue streams from illegal activities, such as collecting protection money, blackmail, extortion, and fraud would have any civic nature at all. However, in Japan since the post-war period they have always played a role in keeping the peace. According to Robert Whiting’s Tokyo Underworld and Tim Weiner’s Legacy of Ashes, the US government even bought the services of one infamous yakuza fixer, Yoshio Kodama, to keep Japan from going communist and maintain order. Kodama would later put up the funding to create the Liberal Democrat Party of Japan that ruled the country for over fifty years. When President Obama visited Japan last year, the police contacted the heads of all Tokyo yakuza groups and asked them to behave themselves and make sure there were no problems.

Interesting fun-fact: The “yakuza fixer”/power-broker referenced above, Yoshio Kodama, was the one-time prison cell mate of former prime minister Nobosuke Kishi for war crimes(Kishi is the grandfather of current prime minister Shinzo Abe). Kodama was also a backer of gangster/oligarch/sushi king/new messiah reverend Sun Myung Moon. It’s a small world at the top. The glue that seems to hold the world at the together appears to be highly profitable and powerful secrecy and lots of money. Curiously, though, an large number of those powerful secrets aren’t really very secret:

The Daily Beast
Japan’s Justice Minister to Resign Over Yakuza Ties
It’s almost too perfect: Japan’s new minister of justice is about to resign over his ties to a leading yakuza (mafia) organization. Jake Adelstein reports on the latest political scandal—and just what the yakuza do for the politicians.

Oct 18, 2012 11:30 PM EDT
Jake Adelstein

It seems like Japanese politicians just can’t get enough of the yakuza.

It was reported last week that the newly appointed Minister of Justice Keishu Tanaka (Democratic Party of Japan) had strong ties to the Japanese mafia. This Thursday, Japan’s respected weekly news magazine, Shukan Bunshun, ran an article on how Japan’s Minister of Finance Koriki Jojima, was supported by a yakuza front company during his election campaign. Minister Tanaka is expected to resign Friday (Japan time). If he does, he’ll be the second Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) appointed cabinet minister since 2009 to resign after exposure of yakuza ties. Not a good thing for the DPJ, which came to power as “the clean party.”

Last Thursday the weekly magazine Shukan Shincho was the first to write that Minister Tanaka had long running ties to the Inagawa-kai. The Inagawa-kai, Japan’s third-largest crime group, was founded as Inagawa-Kogyo circa 1948 and their current headquarters are across the street from the Ritz Carlton Tokyo; they have 10,000 members. According to the police, since 2007 the group has been under the umbrella of the Yamaguchi-gumi, the largest yakuza group in the country, with 39,000 members. Kazuo Uchibori, the leader of the Inagawa-kai, was arrested this month on money-laundering charges. The Tokyo Prosecutor’s Office (TPO) has not yet decided whether to prosecute him. The TPO is also part of the Ministry of Justice, headed by Mr. Tanaka.

The Shincho article alleges Tanaka has long relied on the support of the Inagawa-kai in his political and business dealings and had participated in many Inagawa-kai events—including serving as a matchmaker (nakoudo) at the wedding of an underboss. The piece also states that the Inagawa-kai suppressed scandalous rumors about Tanaka’s life, involving a tawdry love affair. The underboss responsible for handling the negative PR matters allegedly told would-be extortionists, “Tanaka was the matchmaker at my wedding. Save my face—forgive and forget about it.”

The Daily Beast spoke with Inagawa-kai members and police officers from Kanagawa Prefecture who confirmed that Tanaka did indeed have strong ties to the Inagawa-kai, until at least two years ago.

Tanaka has admitted to attending Inagawa-kai events in the past, including the wedding, but has denied the rest of the allegations.

Sen. Shoji Nishida who has investigated and written about the ties of some DPJ members to the mob in WILL magazine (November 2011) says, “Tanaka is the 4th DPJ-coalition-appointed minister with yakuza ties. I wonder if they even screen the people they put in cabinet positions. The minister of Justice is supposed to be the watchdog of the law, not a matchmaker for the yakuza. Putting a yakuza associate in charge of Japan’s criminal-justice system … that’s outrageous. Now I can understand why the Yamaguchi-gumi endorsed their party.”

It should be pointed out that the DPJ coalition has not officially endorsed any organized crime group in Japan. It may very well be a unilateral relationship. The DPJ has consistently opposed passing a Criminal Conspiracy Law, legislation that would be fatal to Japan’s semi-legitimate organized-crime groups. It would make sense for the mob to support their own interests.

It was not that unusual for Japanese politicians to have yakuza ties in the past. In the good old days, yakuza themselves even served as ministers of the Japanese government. The grandfather of ex-prime minister Junichiro Koizumi (Liberal Democratic Party), Matajiro Koizumi, was a member of a yakuza group later absorbed into the Inagawa-kai. During his term serving as the minister of general affairs (1929–1931), due to his ornate body art, Matajiro Koizumi was fondly known as “Irezumi Daijin” or “the tattooed minister.”

It is increasingly likely that at least Keishu Tanaka will be forced to resign from office due to his past role as a “yakuza matchmaker.” His resignation is unlikely to be the end of—what so far—has been a really great relationship for the Japanese political parties and the underworld—a match made in heaven. For Japan’s political parties the yakuza are a necessary evil. When you need to get out the vote, squelch possible political scandals—or create them, nobody does the job quite as well as Japan’s mafia.

The embrace of the yakuza or any mafia outfit as a “necessary evil” by politicians is not a surprising global phenomena. If you go deep enough into the world of deep state power politics you’ll end up above the law. Normal laws no longer apply in those environments.

Smoldering piles of highly radioactive waste. No roof. Big problem.
One prominent exception to exemption from normal laws for deep state actors would be the laws of physics. They’re just really hard to get around. For example, if an earthquake/tsunami happens to trigger a powerful enough explosion to blow its roof off AND the building happens to contain over a thousand spent nuclear fuel rods, the laws of physics strong suggest that you’re going to have a really hard time cleaning that up. And those difficulties are going to last for a very long time:

Asahi
High radiation bars decommissioning of Fukushima plant
February 21, 2013

By HISASHI HATTORI/ Senior Staff Writer

Preparations for the mammoth task of decommissioning crippled reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant are being stymied by continued high levels of radiation from the triple meltdowns there two years ago.

Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the plant, has had to install more tanks to store radioactive water, which continues to swell by several hundreds of tons daily.

Asahi Shimbun reporters entered the No. 4 reactor building on Feb. 20, accompanied by inspectors from the secretariat of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, to assess the situation.

The reactor was offline for regular inspections when the magnitude-9.0 Great East Japan Earthquake struck on March 11, 2011, generating towering tsunami that swamped the plant.

In the days that followed, a hydrogen explosion tore through the No. 4 reactor building. It raised alarm worldwide that the storage pool for spent nuclear fuel in the building might lose its water through evaporation, resulting in the discharge of voluminous amounts of radioactive substances.

That was narrowly averted.

Most of the debris, such as steel frames mangled in the explosion, have been removed from the roofless top floor of the reactor building, but radiation levels remain high.

“Here, the reading is 200 microsieverts per hour,” an inspector said. “But it is 1,000 microsieverts on the north side close to the No. 3 reactor building. Keep your distance.”

A shroud has been placed over the spent fuel storage pool on the top floor. The water temperature was about 20 degrees. The water, seen through an opening, was muddy and brown. The fuel inside the pool was not visible.

Workers were installing a shroud for the No. 4 reactor building on the south side of the building. It will be equipped with a crane to remove spent fuel from the storage pool.

The foundation work was already completed, and steel frames were being assembled.

TEPCO intends to mount a determined effort to remove spent fuel from the storage pool in November. Two fuel assemblies were removed on a trial basis in July.

Ever-increasing radioactive water has become a key challenge for TEPCO.

Groundwater is flowing into reactor buildings, where it mixes with water used to cool melted fuel inside the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 reactors.

The amount of radioactive water stored in tanks and other facilities rose to 230,000 tons this month, up from 10,000 tons in July 2011.

In addition, an estimated 100,000 tons of water have accumulated in the basements of buildings.

Currently, there are nearly 500 storage tanks on the plant premises, many as tall as three-story buildings. TEPCO plans to add more by 2015 when it expects to have to store 700,000 tons of radioactive water.

Preparations for decommissioning have only recently begun. Decommissioning will not be completed for the next 30 to 40 years under a plan drawn up by the government and TEPCO.

Currently, workers cannot easily approach the three reactor buildings where the meltdowns occurred due to high radiation levels. They have been removing debris, such as concrete blocks, on the plant premises.

Work to remove melted fuel from the three reactors is expected to begin by around 2022. Fuel is believed to be scattered within the pressure vessels, containment vessels or piping systems, but exact locations remain unclear.

In addition, TEPCO has yet to identify where radioactive water has been leaking from the damaged containment vessels. The containment vessels must be filled with water before melted fuel is removed.

In December, TEPCO sent a remote-controlled robot near the pressure suppression chamber in the No. 2 reactor building to find out where water was leaking. But the mission failed when the robot lost its balance and got stuck.

New technologies must be developed for decommissioning, but manufacturers and general contractors have shown little enthusiasm.

The companies fear they will not be able to recover their investments because the technologies would have little practical application other than for the Fukushima plant.

Yep, the nuclear plant that had its roof blown off two years ago by an earthquake/tsunami-induced hydrogen explosion is going to take 30-40 years to decontaminate. And it’s still very very radioactive. And the building is still leaking very very radioactive water. Thanks “Laws of Physics”!

Additionally, the article ends by informing us that fixing the situation will require the development of new technologies. But businesses aren’t interested in developing the technologies because the anti-nuclear catastrophe technologies won’t have obvious applications beyond the still unfolding nuclear disaster…even though the successful cleanup of that nuclear waste is required for the long-term health of Japan and the biosphere at large. As some might say, “corporations are people”. And like people, corporations can be mind-numbingly shortsighted and lack even a basic sense of self-preservation. Thanks “The Market”!

Help Wanted: Smoldering piles of highly radioactive waste. No roof. Big problem.
Fortunately, while new technologies may be at hand, there are strong indications that finding new people to work on the cleanup efforts won’t be as much of an issue. And there’s probably going to be a lot of new workers required for the cleanup given time-frame involved (30-40 years) and other staffing complications.

Unfortunately, that pool of available manpower appears to be due, in part, to organized crime bosses trying to secure nuclear cleanup contracts. Let’s hope there aren’t any “employer liability” cases related to the Fukushima cleanup effort for the next few decades:

Japanese underworld tries to cash in on tsunami clean-up

The yakuza is turning its attention from helping disaster victims to winning contracts for the massive rebuilding effort

Justin McCurry in Tokyo
The Guardian, Wednesday 15 June 2011 09.44 EDT

In the aftermath of the devastating March tsunami, Japan’s underworld made a rare display of philanthropy, handing out emergency supplies to survivors, sometimes days before aid agencies arrived.

Three months later, however, the yakuza appears to have dispensed with largesse and is instead hoping to cash in on the daunting clean-up effort in dozens of ruined towns and villages.

The government and police fear they are losing the battle to prevent crime syndicates from winning lucrative contracts to remove millions of tonnes of debris left in the tsunami’s wake, including contaminated rubble near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant that many firms are reluctant to handle.

The disaster created almost 24m tonnes of debris in the three hardest-hit prefectures, Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate, according to the environment ministry. So far, just over 5m tonnes – or 22% – has been removed.

Those lining up to profit from the clearance operation, which is expected to take three years, include homegrown gangs and Chinese crime syndicates, according to the June edition of Sentaku, a respected political and economic affairs magazine.

The magazine recounts the story of a leading Chinese gangster who, accompanied by a national politician, visited the mayor of Minamisoma – a town near Fukushima Daiichi, where a partial evacuation order is in place – hoping to win contracts to remove radioactive waste that, according to police, could have ended up at disposal sites in China.

“The yakuza are trying to position themselves to gain contracts for their construction companies for the massive rebuilding that will come.”

Officials have said that the removal of debris should come under central government control, and the names of “antisocial” individuals have been forwarded to local authorities.

But given the sheer quantity of debris, and the manpower required to remove and dispose of it, few believe Japan’s most powerful yakuza gangs will be kept out altogether.

“The nexus of massive construction projects, bureaucrats, politicians, businessmen and yakuza are as revealing about Japan as they are about Italy and Russia,” Jeff Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University in Tokyo, wrote in his recent book, Contemporary Japan.

So just months after the Fukushima disaster (when the above article was written), organized crime groups were angling to get a share of the massive cleanup proceeds. And they were already so infused into construction/government contract sectors of the economy that their involvement was virtually guaranteed. And that cleanup effort is scheduled to take decades and will involve the handling of large amounts of highly radioactive material. And the mafia appears to be interested in the highly radioactive material disposal contracts. AND hardly anyone appears to be surprised or perturbed by this development because the yakuza has supplying manpower to Japan’s nuclear power industry for a long time. Major catastrophes often have a sudden “quick” phase of disaster (the earthquake/tsunami) followed by long, slow rolling phase of secondary disasters that emerge in the wake of the catastrophe. Organized criminal outfits infiltrating powerful institutions is an example of the larger pattern of endemic systemic corruption and endemic systemic corruption is a global phenomena. Endemic systemic corruption is also a slow motion disaster. And full-spectrum too:

The Telegraph
How the Yakuza went nuclear
What really went wrong at the Fukushima plant? One undercover reporter risked his life to find out

By Jake Adelstein

11:30AM GMT 21 Feb 2012

On March 11 2011, at 2:46pm, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck Japan. The earthquake, followed by a colossal tsunami, devastated the nation, together killing over 10,000 people. The earthquake also triggered the start of a triple nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, run by Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco). Of the three reactors that melted down, one was nearly 40 years old and should have been decommissioned two decades ago. The cooling pipes, “the veins and arteries of the old nuclear reactors”, which circulated fluid to keep the core temperature down, ruptured.

Approximately 40 minutes after the shocks, the tsunami reached the power plant and knocked out the electrical systems. Japan’s Nuclear Industrial Safety Agency (Nisa) had warned Tepco about safety violations and problems at the plant days before the earthquake; they’d been warned about the possibility of a tsunami hitting the plant for years.

The denials began almost immediately. “There has been no meltdown,” government spokesman Yukio Edano intoned in the days after March 11. “It was an unforeseeable disaster,” Tepco’s then president Masataka Shimizu chimed in. As we now know, the meltdown was already taking place. And the disaster was far from unforeseeable.

Tepco has long been a scandal-ridden company, caught time and time again covering up data on safety lapses at their power plants, or doctoring film footage which showed fissures in pipes. How was the company able to get away with such long-standing behaviour? According to an explosive book recently published in Japan, they owe it to what the author, Tomohiko Suzuki, calls “Japan’s nuclear mafia… A conglomeration of corrupt politicians and bureaucrats, the shady nuclear industry, their lobbyists…” And at the centre of it all stands Japan’s actual mafia: the yakuza.

It might surprise the Western reader that gangsters are involved in Japan’s nuclear industry and even more that they would risk their lives in a nuclear crisis. But the yakuza roots in Japanese society are very deep. In fact, they were some of the first responders after the earthquake, providing food and supplies to the devastated area and patrolling the streets to make sure no looting occurred.

“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,” says Suzuki. “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.” Suzuki says he’s met over 1,000 yakuza in his career as an investigative journalist and former editor of yakuza fanzines. For his book, The Yakuza and the Nuclear Industry, Suzuki went undercover at Fukushima to find first-hand evidence of the long-rumoured ties between the nuclear industry and the yakuza. First he documents how remarkably easy it was to become a nuclear worker at Fukushima after the meltdown. After signing up with a legitimate company providing labour, he entered the plant armed only with a wristwatch with a hidden camera. Working there over several months, he quickly found yakuza-supplied labour, and many former yakuza working on site themselves.

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. More shocking, perhaps, were the conditions he says he found inside the plant.

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. (Tepco has admitted that there was a shortage of equipment in the disaster’s early days.) The regular employees were allowed to pass through sophisticated radiation monitors while the temporary labourers were simply given hand rods to monitor their radiation exposure.

A former yakuza boss tells me that his group has “always” been involved in recruiting labourers for the nuclear industry. “It’s dirty, dangerous work,” he says, “and the only people who will do it are homeless, yakuza, or people so badly in debt that they see no other way to pay it off.” 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?” (Suzuki’s own feeling was that the effects of low-level radiation are still unknown and that, as a drinker and smoker, he’s probably no more likely to get cancer than he was before.)

The situation at Fukushima is still dire. Number-two reactor continues to heat up, and appears to be out of control. Rolling blackouts are a regular occurrence. Nuclear reactors are being shut down, one by one, all over Japan. Meanwhile, there is talk that Tepco will be nationalised and its top executives are under investigation for criminal negligence, in relation to the 3/11 disaster. As for the yakuza, the police are beginning to investigate their front companies more closely. “Yakuza may be a plague on society,” says Suzuki, “but they don’t ruin the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and irradiate the planet out of sheer greed and incompetence.” Suzuki says he’s had little trouble from the yakuza about his book’s allegations. He suspects this is because he showed they were prepared to risk their lives at Fukushima – he almost made them look good.

Finding Good Help is Hard Everywhere
The practice of forcing debtors to work around nuclear waste isn’t just an incredibly cruel form of debtors prison, it’s also kind of crazy for all parties involved. When you’re paying an organization to safely dispose of toxic waste you have the obvious concern that waste will be disposed of unsafely. This is a lesson the Italian mafia hasa longtime partner of both the Vatican and Italian power networks – taught us in recent years. And when it’s nuclear waste, you have the additional concern that the mafia might want to dump it in the sea or bury it, or maybe enrich it (imagine a mob-bomb. yikes). These are some lesson the Italian mafia has been teaching us for decades:

From cocaine to plutonium: mafia clan accused of trafficking nuclear waste

Tom Kington in Rome
The Guardian, Monday 8 October 2007

Authorities in Italy are investigating a mafia clan accused of trafficking nuclear waste and trying to make plutonium.

The ‘Ndrangheta mafia, which gained notoriety in August for its blood feud killings of six men in Germany, is alleged to have made illegal shipments of radioactive waste to Somalia, as well as seeking the “clandestine production” of other nuclear material.

Two of the Calabrian clan’s members are being investigated, along with eight former employees of the state energy research agency Enea.

The eight are suspected of paying the mobsters to take waste off their hands in the 1980s and 1990s. At the time they were based at the agency’s centre at Rotondella, a town in Basilicata province in the toe of Italy, which today treats “special” and “hazardous” waste. At other centres, Enea studies nuclear fusion and fission technologies.

The ‘Ndrangheta has been accused by investigators of building on its origins as a kidnapping gang to become Europe’s top cocaine importer, thanks to ties to Colombian cartels. But the nuclear accusation, if true, would take it into another league.

An Enea official who declined to be named denied the accusation, saying: “Enea has always worked within the rules and under strict national and international supervision.”

A magistrate, Francesco Basentini, in the city of Potenza began the investigation following others by magistrates and the leaking to the press of the police confession of an ‘Ndrangheta turncoat, detailing his role in the alleged waste-dumping.

An Enea manager is said to have paid the clan to get rid of 600 drums of toxic and radioactive waste from Italy, Switzerland, France, Germany, and the US, the turncoat claimed, with Somalia as the destination lined up by the traffickers.

But with only room for 500 drums on a ship waiting at the northern port of Livorno, 100 drums were secretly buried somewhere in the southern Italian region of Basilicata. Clan members avoided burying the waste in neighbouring Calabria, said the turncoat, because of their “love for their home region”, and because they already had too many kidnap victims hidden in grottoes there.

Investigators have yet to locate the radioactive drums allegedly buried in Basilicata – although, in a parallel investigation, police are searching for drums of non-radioactive toxic waste they believe were dumped by the ‘Ndrangheta near the Unesco town of Matera in Basilicata, famous for its ancient houses dug into the rock, the Ansa news agency reported yesterday.

Shipments to Somalia, where the waste was buried after buying off local politicians, continued into the 1990s, while the mob also became adept at blowing up shiploads of waste, including radioactive hospital waste, and sending them to the sea bed off the Calabrian coast, the turncoat told investigators. Although he made no mention of attempted plutonium production, Il Giornale newspaper wrote that the mobsters may have planned to sell it to foreign governments.

Ah, wonderful: the destination of choice for the disposal of nuclear waste by the Italian mafia has been somewhere off the coast of Somalia. Problem solved! And the most notorious of the Italian mafias, the ‘Ndrangheta, appears to be interested in plutonium production (plutonium production ambitions shouldn’t be as much of an issue for the Fukushima disaster, although not for reassuring reasons).

So do we have to worry about any yakuza with nuclear-trafficking ambitions? Well, given that the yakuza are sort of like an arm of the Japanese government, full-scale nuclear enrichment and trafficking is probably not a massive concern. It sounds like the yakuza have been playing a role in Japan’s nuclear industry for decades including roles involving the handling of nuclear material. There’s got to be some sort of TEPCO-yakuza informal protocol that’s been developed over the years so indiscriminate nuclear trafficking. Nuclear dumping, on the other hand, is a real possibility given the scale of radioactive material that’s going to have to be decontaminated and moved somewhere. Out of sight out of mind lots of profit. There’s going to be dumping. TEPCO has already engaged in no-longer-secret dumpling so it’s not really a question of whether or not secret dumping of radioactive material will take place but whether or not the yakuza will be doing TEPCO-approved secret dumping or their own “independent” secret dumping.

It’s widely presumed that the mafia is going to continue to be involved with these nuclear cleanup activities and the police appear to lack the resources to identify mob-supplied workers. It seems like just a matter of time before we get reports of illegal dumping of nuclear material by yakuza affiliates and probable some non-yakuza affiliates too. Hopefully that’s not the case. There was an enormous amount of officially tolterated dumping of radioactive waste into the countryside in the initial aftermath based on reports. Nuclear cleanup fraud is where the big money’s going to be for a lot of connected parties in Japan for a long time. Probably.

So let’s hope the yakuza never goes down the path of egregious dumping, because each of those ships filled with toxic/nuclear waste that the Italian mafia sank off the coast of Italy were extremely serious wounds to the biosphere. Life is pretty tough, but enriched nuclear waste can be tougher. Or at least it can give life a serious headache. And maybe mutations. Mutations just add up. So does nuclear waste. The half can get nasty with the stuff found in that roofless building. The Japanese government is still looking at sites to store the waste so we really have very little idea of what the long-term plans are going to be for the disposal of that stuff but presumably the disposal space will be at a premium. There’s a lot or material to store. Lots is going to get tossed. Please dump gently Mr. yakuzas. Like, at least hire ecology grad students to find the least damaging spots to dump stuff if it comes to that. And take lower profits to do it in the least environmentally damaging way. And if you could use your yakuza powers to ensure all the other dumpers also dump gently that would be super of an epic proportion. Don’t dump, of course. But if you just have to dump, dump gently. The ecosystem is already in a quasi-state of collapse and climate change is just getting underway. Throwing large amounts of radiation into the mix is cruel.

Just over a month ago, we saw the first arrest of a yakuza boss providing cleanup staff. Police called it the first such arrest of a yakuza boss for sending people to work at Fukushima. It was also the second such “first arrest of a yakuza boss for Fukushima”. The first one took place last May, although the reports are unclear if this is the same person that was arrested on both occasions. Either way, there were no hints of improper activities by the employees in the reports…the problem was that they were hired by a yakuza boss subcontractor that was taking a cut of their salaries. So it appears that there is indeed some yakuza muscle moving that nuclear waste. Not much, based on reports, but some:

Japan police arrest mobster over Fukushima clean-up

(AFP) – Feb 1, 2013

TOKYO — Japanese police have arrested a high-ranking yakuza over claims he sent workers to the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant for the clean-up without a licence.

Officers in northern Yamagata prefecture were quizzing Yoshinori Arai, a 40-year-old senior member of a local yakuza group affiliated to the Sumiyoshi-kai crime syndicate, a police spokesman said.

Arai allegedly dispatched three men to Fukushima to work on clean-up crews in November, he said.

Under Japanese law, a government licence is required by anyone who acts as an employment agent.

Arai is also suspected of sending people to work on the construction of temporary housing in the tsunami-hit northeast, the spokesman said.

Arai reportedly told police that he intended to profit from the scheme by taking a cut of the workers’ wages. Those employed at Fukushima earn more than others in similar work because of the potentially hazardous nature of the job.

It was the first arrest of a mobster linked to Fukushima clean-up, the police spokesman said.

The full scale of the damage done from the Fukushima disaster is yet to be determined. Some of it will come down to luck, like whether or not another major earthquake and/or tsunami hits the plant before those nuclears rods can be safely removed. But much of the damage that will emerge for the disaster two years ago is yet to be determined and its going to be determined primarily by human error and human choices. The “Fukushima 50” – workers that heroically worked at the plant in spite of the enormous personal risks – included Yakuza-affiliates. Their actions prevented a bad situation from become much worse. There are going to be an enormous number of sacrifices required in the future in order to minimize the addition damage that has yet to be inflicted by the giant pile of highly radioactive material sitting in a building with its roof blown off. Due the nature of the situation and the existing political power structures, those critical future decision are going to be largely in secret be largely unknown individuals. And due to the yakuza’s unique “risky/dirt business” niche in both Japan’s power structure and nuclear industry it seems likely that some of those secret decisions will be made by the yakuza. Secrets like “who dumped what horrible toxin where?” might be the exclusive domain of yakuza bosses in many instances.

The idea of yakuza mob bosses possibly having control of enormously powerful nuclear secrets should be a rather disturbing thought. At the same time, organized criminal syndicates have always played a role in national security affairs and power secrets, so this isn’t a new situation and the world hasn’t blown up yet. Then again, the world is going to hell in a handbasket, so while quasi-mob-rule isn’t a new situation, it’s still a bad situation that’s getting worse. And if you removed the mobs from the equation, it wouldn’t necessarily get much better. Mob rule can be a a state of mind.

The Saving the Economy By Saving Each Other Stimulus Plan
One of the reasons the Japanese government’s recent decision to engage in serious stimulus spending was likely to be a useful policy is that an enormous amount of work needs to be done to address the still dire situation at Fukushima. That’s going to cost money. A LOT of money. The entire world really should be participating in a global economic stimulus plan: the “Save Japan” plan. It had a horrific earthquake, tsunami, and ongoing nuclear meltdown all at once. Yeah, it’s a very wealthy country with immense resources but again: earthquake, tsunami, ongoing nuclear meltdown. And EVERYONE needs the existing dangers put under control. So why not have a global “Save Japan because, you know, earthquake, tsunami, and ongoing nuclear meltdown” plan?

Japan may be acting like it has everything all under control but it’s totally fronting. It’s not going to ask for help because, you know, it’s Japan. But they still need help and the more help they get, in terms of real manpower, the less yakuza and other shady contractors will be required and hired. They’re just going allow themselves to quietly get irradiated and it’s going to take longer to deal with those extremely radioactive rods. “Save Japan” is in everyone’s best interest. Countries around the world can build all sort of new businesses and areas of research and develop whatever technologies the businesses reportedly weren’t interested in doing. This would be the perfect stimulus target: global radioactive calamity that could take place should another major event hit that plant and release even more radiation. How many tens of billions of dollars would it cost to figure out whatever needs to be figured out for Fukushima rods? It’s going to take a while, but learning how to move and store highly radioactive crap better seems like a very useful thing for humanity to know how to do given our predilection for creating it. $100 billion over a decade for a crash movement/processing/storage program divided up between the world maybe?

Ok, now add a save Yemen because it’s about to run out of water global stimulus program. There’s clearly going to be a number of new technologies and infrastructure needed to prepare Yemen for that fateful “oh crap” day that’s hitting sometime sooner or later.

Similarly, make a “Save the Nile region because a Nile Water War Would be Hell” global stimulus plan. Nations all over could study the region’s growing water needs and study what’s going to be required to transition that regions towards a sustainable economy. Not one on a trajectory towards eco-catastrophe and war.

And just keep going finding regions of the world with the place is careening towards calamity and needs help. And just do it as stimulus. No counterbalancing austerity nonsense (I’m looking at you Europe). Just stimulus. Save the world and stimulate the economy while you’re doing it! Each country could throw in whatever money they want but would all have to be directed as solving one of the most troubled regions of the world. A place facing looming disaster. The amount should probably be a pretty big chunk for countries that can afford it. The US, for instance, could probable afford to contribute at least, oh, say, around $85 billion or so to the “Save the World and Stimulate While You Do It” plan. At least $85 billion, if not more. US industries could be developed dedicated to finding things like awesome new desalinization technologies, better radiation shielding (great for space travel), robotic factories that build ultra-eco-friendly homes and then factories that build the factories that build the homes. And then we give the home-building factories to the places that need ultra-eco-friendly homes. And we just keep doing that and no one cares about balance of trade or whatever. The entire modern economy needs to be technologically revamped to deal with the constraints of the 21st century. And once there are no more serious problems – problems like poverty or thousand of highly radioactive spent fuel rods that are sitting in a building with its roof blown off – we can end the stimulus program. We will have saved ourselves by saving each other in a stimulating way.

Update 11/12/2013
Here’s an update on the situation in Fukushima: Tepco is about to begin the highly dangerous process of safely removing the 1,300+ spent fuel-rods from Fukushima Daiichi 4.

Q. What could go wrong?

A: OMFG.

Agence France-Presse
November 6, 2013 23:21
Facts on complex operation to remove Fukushima fuel rods

Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) will this month start removing fuel from a storage pool at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant, the most challenging operation since runaway reactors were brought under control two years ago.

Here are some key facts about the operation.

Q: What’s the state of nuclear fuel at the site?

A: Reactors No. 1, 2 and 3 went into meltdown after their cooling systems were knocked out by the March 2011 tsunami. The temperature of the cores and spent fuel pools at all reactors is now stable and water is being used to keep them cool.

Reactor No. 4, whose outer building was damaged by fires and an explosion, has an empty core but a total of 1,533 fuel assemblies — 1,331 spent fuel bundles and 202 unused ones — are in its storage pool.

Q: Why does TEPCO have to take fuel from the pool?

A: According to the firm, it is safer to store all fuel in a shared pool that is reinforced against possible future earthquakes and tsunamis.

This will be the first post-tsunami attempt to move any fuel from one part of the plant to another.

Q: How will the operation work?

A: Under normal circumstances, nuclear plants shuffle fuel rods around fairly frequently, often using computer-controlled robotic arms that “know” exactly where each fuel assembly is.

But the damage to the building housing this pool, along with the presence in the pool of debris from explosions, is a wildcard that will complicate this operation considerably.

Workers in heavy protective equipment will use a remote control to direct a specially installed “grabber” into the pool where it will latch onto fuel assemblies and drop them into a huge cask.

Each 4.5-metre (15-foot) fuel bundle needs to be kept completely submerged at all times to prevent it from heating up.

Once loaded with assemblies and water, the 91-tonne cask will be lifted out by a different crane and put onto a trailer. It will then be taken to another part of the complex and the process will be reversed.

Removing all 1,500-odd assemblies is expected to take until the end of 2014. Getting this done successfully will mean engineers can then start trying to extricate fuel from the reactors that went into meltdown.

But where the fuel pool operation is tricky and contains a few unknowns, removing fuel from the melted and misshapen cores of reactors 1, 2 and 3 will pose a whole new level of difficulty.

Q. What could go wrong?

A: Each rod contains uranium and a small amount of plutonium. If they are exposed to the air, for example if they are dropped by the grabber, they would start to heat up, a process that, left unchecked, could lead to a self-sustaining nuclear reaction – known as “criticality”.

TEPCO says a single assembly should not reach criticality and the grabber will not carry more than one at a time.

Assemblies exposed to the air would give off so much radiation that it would be difficult for a worker to get near enough to fix it.

Sceptics say with so many unknowables in an operation that has never been attempted under these conditions, there is potential for a catastrophe.

Government modelling in the immediate aftermath of the Fukushima disaster, which was only subsequently made public, suggested that an uncontrolled nuclear conflagration at Fukushima could start a chain reaction in other nearby nuclear plants.

That worst-case scenario said a huge evacuation area could encompass a large part of greater Tokyo, a megalopolis with 35 million inhabitants.

Only one rod can be moved at a time and if one spent fuel rod drops on the ground during it might give off so much radiation that workers will be unable to get near enough to fix it. Plus, if a rod is allowed to heat up too much it could spontaneously go “critical”. And this whole process will have to be repeated 1,300+ times, hopefully by the end of 2014.

How about we all send some extremely good vibes to the Fukushima cleanup workers that are taking one for Team Life-on-Earth. Especially the new ones.

Discussion

53 comments for “The Yakuza’s Cleanup Crew: It’s Not What You Think But Still Alarming”

  1. Housekeeping note: Comments 1-50 available here.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | January 27, 2017, 8:10 pm
  2. With the Trump administration deprioritizing any policies intended to reduce carbon emissions while simultaneously flooding the energy markets with carbon-based energy sources like natural gas, one of the interesting questions facing the energy sector is what’s going to nuclear power, an industry that has long screamed “we’re carbon-free” when trying to justify its existence. And as the following article suggests, while the answer is unclear, it’s probably going to involve a lot of help from the Trump administration:

    Bloomberg

    Trump Team’s Asking for Ways to Keep Nuclear Power Alive

    by Mark Chediak
    and Catherine Traywick
    December 8, 2016, 10:38 PM CST December 9, 2016, 2:55 PM CST

    * Nuclear facing increasing competition from gas, renewables
    * Trump team asked Energy Department for ways to help nuclear

    President-elect Donald Trump’s advisers are looking at ways in which the U.S. government could help nuclear power generators being forced out of the electricity market by cheaper natural gas and renewable resources.

    In a document obtained by Bloomberg, Trump’s transition team asked the Energy Department how it can help keep nuclear reactors “operating as part of the nation’s infrastructure” and what it could do to prevent the shutdown of plants. Advisers also asked the agency whether there were statutory restrictions in resuming work on Yucca Mountain, a proposed federal depository for nuclear waste in Nevada that was abandoned by the Obama administration.

    The list of questions to the Energy Department offers one of the clearest indications yet of Trump’s potential plans for aiding America’s battered nuclear power generators. Five of the country’s nuclear plants have closed in the past five years, based on Energy Department data, and more are set to shut as cheaper supplies from gas-fired plants, wind and solar squeeze their profits.

    The Energy Department could “just directly offer power purchase contracts to some of these plants,” Julien DuMoulin-Smith, a New York-based analyst for UBS Group AG, said Friday by phone. “That’s a last resort. It’s not necessarily likely but it’s something they’re looking at. They are very interested in keeping the commercial portfolio available.”

    Media representatives for the Trump transition and the Energy Department didn’t respond to calls and e-mails seeking comment.

    Some environmentalists have warned the closures could undermine efforts to combat climate change as nuclear reactors are the biggest source of zero-emissions power in the U.S. Plant owners including the nation’s largest — Exelon Corp. — have sought relief from state policy makers, with New York and Illinois approving millions in annual payments to keep reactors running.

    ‘So Many Incentives’

    “We’re not sure if the Trump administration is going to have a priority on a low-carbon future, but there are so many incentives for certain technologies that create a skewed or an unlevel playing field in the marketplace,” Exelon’s Chief Executive Officer Chris Crane said Friday in an interview at a forum in Washington. “Let’s design the markets to the outcomes that we want and merge environmental and energy policy together.”

    To be sure, the Department of Energy’s authority is fairly limited on what the agency can do to help existing reactors stay open, said Rob Barnett, an analyst for Bloomberg Intelligence. “To make sure existing nuclear stays open, you need Congress to pony up subsidies and we think that’s an uphill battle.”

    Among a list of questions the Trump team sent to the Energy Department was whether the agency has plans to resume the license proceedings for Yucca Mountain and how it can continue supporting the permitting of small modular reactors, seen as the next generation of nuclear technology.

    Another Closure

    On Thursday, Entergy Corp. announced that it’ll shut the Palisades nuclear plant in Michigan in 2018, adding to the growing list of reactors planning to retire early.

    Trump has voiced his support for nuclear power in the past. In a television interview with Fox News in 2011, he said he was “very strongly in favor of nuclear energy,” while stressing the need for safeguards at plants.

    “In a document obtained by Bloomberg, Trump’s transition team asked the Energy Department how it can help keep nuclear reactors “operating as part of the nation’s infrastructure” and what it could do to prevent the shutdown of plants. Advisers also asked the agency whether there were statutory restrictions in resuming work on Yucca Mountain, a proposed federal depository for nuclear waste in Nevada that was abandoned by the Obama administration.”

    So we’ll see if the Trump team tries to stop the existing trend of nuclear plant closures while it simultaneously attempts to get as much carbon-based energy out of the ground as possible. And while subsidies are indeed an option, don’t forget that deregulating nuclear power and hoping regulatory cost-cutting will save the industry is always an option. A horrible option, but it’s an option. A very possible option.

    So if there is a wave of nuclear power deregulation and we end up having a nuclear ‘oopsie’ event, it’s worth noting new EPA guidelines on the ‘safe’ levels of radiation during a nuclear emergency suggest that you officially shouldn’t have to worry nearly as much about all that radiation exposure as you might have in the past. Which is rather worrying:

    Truth Outh

    Are the EPA’s Emergency Radiation Limits a Cover for Fukushima Fumbles?

    Tuesday, January 10, 2017 By Mike Ludwig

    The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is poised to issue guidelines that would set radiation limits for drinking water during the “intermediate period” after the releases from a radioactive emergency, such as an accident at a nuclear power plant, have been brought under control. The emergency limits would allow the public to be exposed to radiation levels hundreds and even thousands of times higher than typically allowed by federal law.

    Opponents say that under the proposed guidelines, concentration limits for several types of radionuclides would allow a lifetime permissible dose in a week or a month, or the equivalent of 250 chest x-rays a year, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a watchdog group that represents government employees.

    The EPA has stressed that the proposal is aimed at guiding state and local leaders during a crisis and would not change existing federal radiation limits for the water we drink every day, which are much more stringent, and assume there may be decades of regular consumption. Critics of the new proposal say the emergency guidelines are a public relations ploy to play down the dangers of radiation and provide cover for an agency that fumbled during the Fukushima disaster in 2011.

    The emergency limits are even higher than those proposed by the EPA during the final days of the Bush administration, which withdrew the proposal after facing public scrutiny and left the Obama administration with the job of finalizing the guidelines.

    Now, in the twilight of the Obama administration, the EPA’s “Protective Action Guidelines” for drinking water are once again drawing fire from nuclear watchdogs and public officials.

    “The message here is that the American public should learn to love radiation, and that much higher levels than what are set by the statutory limits are OK,” said Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a watchdog group that represents government employees.

    PEER says that internal documents released under the Freedom of Information Act show the EPA’s radiation division hid proposed limits for dozens of radionuclides from the public — and even from other divisions within the agency that were critical of the plan — in order to “avoid confusion” until the final guidelines were released.

    “It’s not like this has been done with a lot of openness,” Ruch said. “We had to sue them to find out what levels they would allow.”

    EPA Caught With Its “Pants Down” During Fukushima

    In 2011, the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan suffered a meltdown after a deadly earthquake and tsunami and released massive amounts of dangerous radioactive contaminants into the ocean and atmosphere. Ruch said the EPA was caught with its “pants down” as this radiation was detected in air, rainwater and even milk in the United States. The EPA had been working since the early 1990s to develop guidelines on how the government should respond to such a disaster, but specific limits for radiation in drinking water are only now being set.

    As Truthout reported at the time, the EPA told the public that radiation from the disaster would not reach the US at levels high enough to pose a public health concern, even as the agency’s own data showed concentrations of radionuclides in rain water far exceeding federal drinking water standards. As Japan struggled with a major nuclear crisis and the media debated the relative danger of radioactive plumes blowing about the world’s atmosphere, the EPA quietly stopped running extra tests for radiation less than two months after the disaster began.

    By then, samples of cow’s milk, rain and drinking water from across the country tested positive for radiation from the Fukushima plant, and nuclear critics warned that it was difficult to tell whether there could be impacts on human health in the absence of enhanced radiation monitoring.

    The EPA’s radiation division is now on the verge of approving a long-awaited update to its Protective Action Guidelines for responding to such a “large-scale emergency.” Ruch said employees from other divisions of the EPA were cut out of the decision-making process, and internal EPA documents indicate that the concentration limits were set higher than those detected during Fukushima to cover for the EPA’s embarrassing performance.

    Ruch points to notes from a 2014 briefing at the EPA’s radiation division, which state that the agency “experienced major difficulty conveying its message to the public” that concentrations of radioactive material in rain water, although higher than federal Maximum Containment Levels (MCLs), “were not of immediate concern to public health” during the Fukushima crisis.

    No Safe Dose of Radiation

    The EPA’s new proposed guidelines are ostensibly meant to help public officials decide when to take protective actions to reduce exposure to radiation, such as asking the public to switch from tap water to bottled water. Most of the manual has already been finalized, except for the section on drinking water, which has been mired in controversy since the Bush administration.

    In June, the EPA put the proposal up for public comment, but only made limits for four types of radionuclides publicly available. Critics say the agency still received 60,000 comments opposing the guidelines, including statements from 65 environmental groups. PEER sued the agency under the Freedom of Information Act in October, and the EPA released the proposed limits for dozens of other radionuclides just days before the Christmas holiday.

    Dan Hirsch, president of the Committee to Bridge the Gap, a nuclear watchdog group, attended a briefing with EPA officials on Thursday and told Truthout that the agency intends to finalize the guidelines despite ongoing protests.

    “It’s really hard to believe,” Hirsch said.

    Underlying the debate are MCLs for radioactive material in drinking water set by the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974. Hirsch said that the nuclear industry has tried to “get out from under” these limits for years, but federal law prohibits them from being lowered. So, the industry and its allies at the EPA focused on the Protective Action Guidelines instead.

    The MCLs are based on the idea that adults should not be exposed to more than 4 millirem (mrem) of radiation in drinking water each year for a 70-year period, for a total of 280 mrem in an average lifetime. Since the “intermediate phase” following a nuclear emergency is expected to be temporary, the emergency radionuclide limits are capped at amounts that would expose adults to a maximum 500 mrem dose of radiation over the course of a year.

    Hirsch said that such as dose of radiation is equivalent to receiving a chest x-ray about five days a week for a year. The EPA arrived at these figures by “playing” with the numbers used to calculate radiation absorbed by human organs, which in turn increased the amount of certain radionuclides that can be present in drinking water by hundreds, thousands and even tens of thousands of times.

    Hirsch said guidelines reflect the nuclear industry’s longstanding argument that MCLs are far too low, and the public should accept higher doses of radiation as permissible in an emergency.

    The EPA claims there have been “advancements in scientific understanding of radiation dose and risk” since it began drawing up the Protective Action Guidelines back in 1992, and its emergency dose guidelines are based on the “latest science.” The guidelines are also designed to provide flexibility for decision-makers responding to a crisis.

    Nuclear critics, however, argue that no dose of radiation is safe. Even small doses can cause cancer in small portions of a large population.

    “The science has actually worked in the opposite direction over the years,” Hirsch said. “Science has concluded that radiation is much more dangerous than what was assumed in the ’70s.”

    The guidelines are based on expected exposure over the course of one year, but both Ruch and Hirsch point out that radiation from nuclear calamity could persist for far longer — just look at the fallout from Fukushima, which Japan has struggled with for years. Radiation from the disaster is still being detected in fish on North America’s western coast. They argue that the public needs better protections in the event of an emergency, and the nuclear industry should not be let off the hook based on inflated safety limits.

    “The whole thing appears to be [an attempt to] achieve a post-incident reaction of ‘don’t worry be happy,'” Ruch said.

    “Underlying the debate are MCLs for radioactive material in drinking water set by the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974. Hirsch said that the nuclear industry has tried to “get out from under” these limits for years, but federal law prohibits them from being lowered. So, the industry and its allies at the EPA focused on the Protective Action Guidelines instead.

    Will the nuclear industry manage to “get our from under” a lot more than just the Maximum Containment Levels (MCLs) limits it’s been fighting for years? Only time will tell, although everything Trump has told us about his plans for environmental regulations is pretty telling.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | January 27, 2017, 8:12 pm
  3. The former chief of the Fukushima probe, Kiyoshi Kurokawa, just issued some rather significant and ominous criticism of Japan’s nuclear industry. Specifically, Kurokawa is raising alarm of a lack of adequate evacuation plans now that nuclear reactors are getting restarted. But perhaps more ominously, Kurokawa is also raising alarm over how Japan’s Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA) is now headed by an official for the economy ministry, the ministry with a long history cheerleading the nuclear power industry. So sounds like Japan’s nuclear industry is steadily reverting back to business as usual. Dangerous business as usual:

    The Asahi Shimbun

    Former chief of Fukushima probe criticizes reactor restarts

    By SHINICHI SEKINE/ Staff Writer
    June 13, 2017 at 14:05 JST

    The leader of the Diet investigation into the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster blasted the Abe administration’s policies on restarting reactors, noting that proper evacuation plans are not in place.

    “What are you going to do if a tsunami comes?” Kiyoshi Kurokawa, former chairman of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission, said at a June 12 meeting of the Lower House ad hoc committee for research of nuclear power issues. “How can you go (there) to rescue people if cars cannot move forward on roads?”

    Kurokawa was referring to the restarts of the No. 4 and No. 3 reactors of the Takahama nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture in May and June.

    The reactors cleared the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s safety standards that were established after the accident unfolded at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in March 2011.

    Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said these standards are the strictest in the world.

    But Kurokawa said, “I cannot accept such rhetoric.”

    Kurokawa, also a professor emeritus of medical science at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, was selected as chairman of a third-party advisory body established by the ad hoc committee in May.

    Kurokawa also raised questions about the rules for personnel at the NRA, the country’s nuclear watchdog.

    In January, Masaya Yasui, an official of the Ministry of the Economy, Trade and Industry, assumed the post of secretary-general of the NRA’s secretariat

    Kurokawa said he was concerned that an official of the economy ministry, which has promoted nuclear power generation, is now at the top of the secretariat.

    Previously, a “no-return rule” was in place that prohibited employees of the NRA secretariat from returning to the economy ministry.

    However, the Abe administration changed the rule to allow them to return to the ministry at bureaus not directly related to nuclear power generation.

    Regarding the change, Kurokawa said, “The most important thing is to protect the no-return rule.”

    ———-

    “Former chief of Fukushima probe criticizes reactor restarts” by SHINICHI SEKINE; The Asahi Shimbun; 06/13/2017

    “Kurokawa said he was concerned that an official of the economy ministry, which has promoted nuclear power generation, is now at the top of the secretariat.”

    Well, let’s hope the worst nuclear disaster in history with no end in site tempers the ‘anything goes’ attitude Japan’s nuclear industry has traditionally enjoyed now that more and more reactors are starting back up. *fingers crossed*:


    “What are you going to do if a tsunami comes?” Kiyoshi Kurokawa, former chairman of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission, said at a June 12 meeting of the Lower House ad hoc committee for research of nuclear power issues. “How can you go (there) to rescue people if cars cannot move forward on roads?”

    Kurokawa was referring to the restarts of the No. 4 and No. 3 reactors of the Takahama nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture in May and June.

    The reactors cleared the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s safety standards that were established after the accident unfolded at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in March 2011.

    And note that while the Takahama nuclear power plant – operated by Kansai Electric Power (Kepco) – is already restarting, this is still the beginning of the nuclear restart phase. There’s undoubtedly going to be plenty of future restarts in the future. Whether it’s wise or not:

    The Guardian

    Victory for Japanese nuclear industry as high court quashes injunction

    Takahama reactors to restart within a month despite Greenpeace saying they have serious unresolved safety issues

    Daniel Hurst in Tokyo

    Tuesday 28 March 2017 13.20 EDT Last modified on Tuesday 28 March 2017 14.53 EDT
    Japan’s struggling nuclear power industry has won a victory against a landmark legal injunction that halted the running of two reactors.

    Six years on from the triple meltdown at Fukushima, the industry faces concerted opposition from residents and some officials due to lingering concerns about safety.

    In an illustration of the damage to the industry’s reputation after the Fukushima disaster, just three of Japan’s 42 usable reactors are running at present, according to the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum.

    That number is to rise after the Osaka high court on Tuesday backed a restart of reactors 3 and 4 at the Takahama power plant north of Kyoto. In doing so, it overturned an earlier ruling that Greenpeace had hailed as the first known case in Japanese history of a judge ordering the shutdown of an operating nuclear reactor.

    The challenge had been brought by a group of residents in neighbouring Shiga prefecture, who were concerned about the risk of contamination of water supplies at Lake Biwa.

    The operator, Kansai Electric Power (Kepco), said the shutdown imposed in March last year was not based on objective science and had cost it more than ¥200m (£1.4m) a day.

    Kendra Ulrich, a senior global energy campaigner for Greenpeace Japan, said the injunction’s cancellation was “not wholly unexpected in the notoriously nuclear-friendly Japanese legal system”.

    “It clears the way for Kepco to restart reactors that have serious unresolved safety issues,” she said.

    The Takahama reactors would restart within about a month, local media reports said.

    Two weeks ago a district court near Tokyo ruled that negligence by the state contributed to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in March 2011 and awarded significant damages to evacuees.

    The government has said it supports restarting reactors where it is safe to do so, and has set a target of obtaining between 20% and 22% of the country’s power from nuclear sources by 2030.

    Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), which operated the Fukushima Daiichi plant, is pushing to restart two of the reactors at another of its stations in Niigata prefecture. The Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant was previously the world’s largest such facility but has been offline for years.

    The Nuclear Regulation Authority last month ordered Tepco to resubmit safety documents after the company revealed previously secret analysis that a key building on the site could not withstand a severe earthquake.

    At the wrecked Fukushima site, meanwhile, Tepco is still trying to work out how to remove fuel debris as part of an expensive decommissioning operation that is expected to take decades. It has lost several robots sent in to investigate the damage from the earthquake and tsunami-triggered meltdowns.

    ———-

    “Victory for Japanese nuclear industry as high court quashes injunction” by Daniel Hurst; The Guardian; 03/28/2017

    “Kendra Ulrich, a senior global energy campaigner for Greenpeace Japan, said the injunction’s cancellation was “not wholly unexpected in the notoriously nuclear-friendly Japanese legal system”.”

    Yep, don’t be surprised if more plants with unresolved safety issues are deemed by Japan’s nuclear regulators to be safe enough to make the risk of another historic disaster worth it. And that includes not being surprised if Tepco, Fukushima’s operator, gets in on the action too:


    Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), which operated the Fukushima Daiichi plant, is pushing to restart two of the reactors at another of its stations in Niigata prefecture. The Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant was previously the world’s largest such facility but has been offline for years.

    The Nuclear Regulation Authority last month ordered Tepco to resubmit safety documents after the company revealed previously secret analysis that a key building on the site could not withstand a severe earthquake.

    “The Nuclear Regulation Authority last month ordered Tepco to resubmit safety documents after the company revealed previously secret analysis that a key building on the site could not withstand a severe earthquake.”

    How many other secret analyses of dire vulnerabilities are yet to be revealed by the operators of the yet to be restarted reactors? We’ll find out. Probably via horrific tragedy.

    And as a recent article in Science about the findings of researchers from Princeton University and the Union of Concerned Scientists reminds us, we shouldn’t assume those future tragedies involving secret analyses of major vulnerabilities won’t hit closer to home. Especially if you live near a nuclear power plant. A category that includes a lot of people:

    Wired UK

    Faulty analysis could lead to a nuclear fallout ‘worse than Fukushima’ in the US

    Projections show how 8 million people in the US could be forced to relocate if a fire was triggered by an earthquake or terrorist attack

    By Libby Plummer
    Thursday 25 May 2017

    A lack of vital action from regulators could leave the public at high risk from nuclear-waste fires, claims a new report.

    In an article in Science, researchers from Princeton University and the Union of Concerned Scientists found that a reliance on “faulty analysis” by US nuclear experts could result in a catastrophic fire that has the potential to force some 8 million people to relocate, and result in a staggering $2 trillion (£1.5 trillion) in damages.

    Fallout from such a fire could be considerably larger than the radioactive emissions from the 2011 Fukushima accident in Japan and the team claims such a fire at any one of dozens of reactor sites around the country could be triggered by a large earthquake or a terrorist attack. The researchers argue that the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) – a government agency tasked with ensuring the safe use of radioactive materials – refuses to implement regulatory measures that could avoid such a disaster.

    “The NRC has been pressured by the nuclear industry, directly and through Congress, to low-ball the potential consequences of a fire because of concerns that increased costs could result in shutting down more nuclear power plants,” said co-author Frank von Hippel, research physicist at Princeton’s Program on Science and Global Security (SGS).

    “Unfortunately, if there is no public outcry about this dangerous situation, the NRC will continue to bend to the industry’s wishes.”

    The paper continues that the public is at risk from fires in pools used to store and cool radioactive fuel rods because the water-filled basins are so tightly packed with nuclear waste.

    Similar ‘spent-fuel’ pools were brought into the spotlight following the March 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan. A tsunami triggered by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake hit the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, knocking out electrical cooling systems and leading to meltdowns of three of the facility’s six reactors and the release of radioactive material.

    “The Fukushima accident could have been a hundred times worse had there been a loss of the water covering the spent fuel in pools associated with each reactor,” von Hippel said. “That almost happened at Fukushima in Unit 4.”

    Following the Fukushima disaster, the NRC considered a variety of new safety features including a ban on densely packing spent-fuel pools and a requirement to move cooled spent-fuel to dry storage casks after five years.

    The NRC concluded that a spent-fuel pool fire would cause around $125 billion (£96 billion) in damages while transferring the fuel to dry casks could reduce radioactive releases from pool fires by 99 per cent. However, the agency considered a fire to be so unlikely that it would not justify the cost of around $50 million (£38 million) needed to secure each pool.

    The researchers claim this analysis was based on the assumption that there would be no consequences from radioactive contamination beyond a 50-miles radius from a fire and that any affected areas could be cleaned up within a year. This doesn’t match up with the reality experienced at Fukushima and following the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, says the report.

    The researchers note that Congress has the authority to fix the costly problem if the NRC fails to take any further action. They also suggest that state-level subsidies could be limited to plants that agree to make their spent-fuel pools safer.

    “In far too many instances, the NRC has used flawed analysis to justify inaction, leaving millions of Americans at risk of a radiological release that could contaminate their homes and destroy their livelihoods,” said co-author Edwin Lyman, from the Union of Concerned Scientists Lyman. “It is time for the NRC to employ sound science and common-sense policy judgments in its decision-making process.”

    While the NRC has, so far, not instructed plant owners to move spent-fuel away from pools, it did implement a series of safety improvements following the Fukushima disaster.

    In March 2012, it issued three orders requiring nuclear power plants to obtain additional emergency equipment, install enhanced equipment to monitor water levels in spent-fuel pools and install or improve emergency venting systems to relieve pressure in the event of a major accident.

    ———-

    “Faulty analysis could lead to a nuclear fallout ‘worse than Fukushima’ in the US” by Libby Plummer; Wired UK; 05/25/2017

    “In an article in Science, researchers from Princeton University and the Union of Concerned Scientists found that a reliance on “faulty analysis” by US nuclear experts could result in a catastrophic fire that has the potential to force some 8 million people to relocate, and result in a staggering $2 trillion (£1.5 trillion) in damages.”

    And what’s behind this faulty analysis that’s been accepted by the US’s Nuclear Regulator Commission (NRC)? The nuclear industry. Of course:


    “The NRC has been pressured by the nuclear industry, directly and through Congress, to low-ball the potential consequences of a fire because of concerns that increased costs could result in shutting down more nuclear power plants,” said co-author Frank von Hippel, research physicist at Princeton’s Program on Science and Global Security (SGS).

    The NRC concluded that a spent-fuel pool fire would cause around $125 billion (£96 billion) in damages while transferring the fuel to dry casks could reduce radioactive releases from pool fires by 99 per cent. However, the agency considered a fire to be so unlikely that it would not justify the cost of around $50 million (£38 million) needed to secure each pool.

    “The NRC concluded that a spent-fuel pool fire would cause around $125 billion (£96 billion) in damages while transferring the fuel to dry casks could reduce radioactive releases from pool fires by 99 per cent. However, the agency considered a fire to be so unlikely that it would not justify the cost of around $50 million (£38 million) needed to secure each pool.

    Is a price-tag of $50 million per spent-fuel pool to avoid the prospects of a spent-fuel pool fire causing $125 billion in damages and a massive evacuation of millions of people worth the cost? Not according to the industry-friendly NRC.

    So don’t forget, when the former chairman of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission warns about the potentially disastrous consequence of an overly cozy relationship between regulators and the nuclear industry, his warning doesn’t just apply to Japan.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | June 16, 2017, 8:00 pm

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