The plant’s operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, known as Tepco, has been shifting its attention away, leaving the complex cleanup to an often badly managed, poorly trained, demoralized and sometimes unskilled work force that has made some dangerous missteps. At the same time, the company is pouring its resources into another plant, Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, that it hopes to restart this year as part of the government’s push to return to nuclear energy three years after the world’s second-worst nuclear disaster. It is a move that some members of the country’s nuclear regulatory board have criticized.

That shift in attention has translated into jobs at Fukushima that pay less and are more sporadic, chasing away qualified workers. Left behind, laborers and others say, is a work force often assembled by fly-by-night labor brokers with little technical or safety expertise and even less concern about hiring desperate people. Police and labor activists say some of the most aggressive of the brokers have mob ties.

Regulators, contractors and more than 20 current and former workers interviewed in recent months say the deteriorating labor conditions are a prime cause of a string of large leaks of contaminated water and other embarrassing errors that have already damaged the environment and, in some cases, put workers in danger. In the worst-case scenario, experts fear, struggling workers could trigger a bigger spill or another radiation release.

“There is a crisis of manpower at the plant,” said Yukiteru Naka, founder of Tohoku Enterprise, a contractor and former plant engineer for General Electric. “We are forced to do more with less, like firemen being told to use less water even though the fire’s still burning.”


The leaked water was among the most severely contaminated that Tepco has reported in the aftermath of the March 2011 disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, when damage caused by an earthquake and a tsunami led to meltdowns in three of the plant’s reactors. Each liter of the water contained, on average, 230 million becquerels of particles giving off beta radiation, the company said. About half of the particles were likely to be strontium 90, which is readily taken up by the human body in the same way that calcium is, and can cause bone cancer and leukemia.

That means the water was about 3.8 million times as contaminated with strontium 90 as the maximum allowed under Japan’s safety standards for drinking water. It also showed levels much more radioactive than a worrisome groundwater reading that Tepco announced earlier this month. That reading — five million becquerels of strontium 90 per liter — which was detected at a location closer to the ocean than the latest spill, prompted criticism of Tepco because the company waited five months to report it publicly.

Critics have assailed the company since the accident, saying that it has been slow to acknowledge problems at the stricken plant and that it has disclosed too little information about the conditions inside. Even so, the government has left the company largely in charge of the cleanup work there.


But while considerable time has been dedicated to the ways in which Japan can surmount the questions of energy security in the post-Fukushima Daiichi era, a new story – not one cradled in the bright lights of Tokyo or Osaka, but instead in the ancient Japanese countryside – is being ignored. Rural communities throughout Japan are becoming increasingly vocal about an urban-rural divide that has been generally unquestioned for over 150 years. This newfound rural voice is pulsating throughout the countryside, speaking of environmental justice and an unfair urban bias in planning. As the Japanese government continues with ongoing energy and environmental planning debates in this new era, this voice is positioned to become increasingly loud.

[…]

According to David Harvey, social justice strongly correlates to the power of the ruling class. In particular, neoliberal restructuring – under the auspices of endless capital accumulation – creates markets that further divide the gap between rich and poor while also exacerbating racial, religious and ethnic divisions. The thirty year history of neoliberalism in Europe, the United States, and currently Asia demonstrates that “the freer the market the greater the inequalities and the greater the monopoly power.” This divide, Harvey argues, involves the right to the city, or namely the ability to change spaces to meet our needs and desires. However, neoliberalism is effectively resting power in specific places and spaces. For Harvey, the manifestations are negative: private property and the profit rate have not created equality, inclusion, and justice. For Japan, the effects of restructuring have undoubtedly affected urban populations, but even more compelling is the way in which the country is governed. In effect, neoliberalism in Japan should raise questions about the right to the country, not just the city, as the dynamics between the urban and rural become a matter of a specific spatial bias.


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.

Not the wi-fi kind of Homeless-Hotspotting.


‘Matsuri no Uma (The Horses of Fukushima)’: Fukushima’s horses trot slowly back to prosperity - The Japan Times

What begins as something of a shocking expose morphs into a picture-pretty animal documentary and tourist promo — and then back again. Matsubayashi, I realized at the end, has told at least two different stories that never quite come together.

The first is one about horses pummeled by the tsunami, blasted by radiation and left to fend for themselves in the chill Fukushima March. One stable owner, Shinichiro Tanaka, returns two weeks after March 11 to find seven of his 38 horses dead of starvation, while the survivors are severely undernourished.

Tanaka, who raises horses as a business and sells them for slaughter when they are no longer fit for racing or riding, nonetheless can’t bear to dispose of them now his income has plunged to zero. “It’s my fault for not feeding them and for causing some of them to die,” he explains. Defying a government order to kill all farm animals in the exclusion zone, he fights and wins an exception for his horses.

Soon after, they are taken to a city-owned stable where they begin a long rehabilitation. One is a winless racehorse named Mirror Quest whose penis is painfully swollen and elongated from infection. He becomes the film’s hero, with his injured member serving as an unlikely symbol for the disaster’s toll — and the recovery’s slow progress.


Japan’s Cut-Price Nuclear Cleanup: TEPCO woes continue amid human error, plummeting morale and worker exodus - Japan Focus

..as the challenges facing Fukushima Daiichi become clearer with every new radiation leak and mishap, the men responsible for cleaning up the plant are suffering from plummeting morale, health problems and deep anxiety about the future. Even now, at the start of a decommissioning operation that is expected to last four decades, the plant faces a shortage of workers qualified to manage the dangerous work that lies ahead, according to people with firsthand knowledge of the situation inside the facility.

The dangers faced by the nearly 900 employees of Tokyo Electric Power [Tepco] and some 5,000 workers hired by a network of contractors and sub-contractors were underlined in October when six men were doused with contaminated water at a desalination facility.  Their brush with danger was a sign that the cleanup is entering its most precarious stage since the March 2011 meltdown.

Commenting on the latest leak, the head of Japan’s nuclear regulator Shunichi Tanaka, told reporters: “Mistakes are often linked to morale. People usually don’t make silly, careless mistakes when they’re motivated and working in a positive environment. The lack of it, I think, may be related to the recent problems.”


Japanese officials desperate to contain an ever-growing crisis at the Fukushima nuclear power station are looking to use artificial permafrost to stop radioactive water from leaking. The idea is to build a mile-long wall of frozen earth around Fukushima’s toxic reactor buildings to stem the groundwater contamination; the most experienced specialists in the field say the plan should work.

The Japanese firms involved appear to be taking a go-it-alone approach. Two weeks ago, a top official at Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) signaled that the utility behind the Fukushima disaster would seek international assistance with the Fukushima water contamination crisis. But experts at U.S.-based firms and national labs behind the world’s largest freeze-wall systems—and the only one proven in containing nuclear contamination—have not been contacted by either Tepco or its contractor, Japanese engineering and construction firm Kajima Corp.

One of these experts is Elizabeth Phillips, who managed the installation of a 300-foot-long, 30-foot-deep freeze wall to isolate radioactive waste at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee in 1996 and 1997. While freeze walls are commonly used to hold back groundwater to facilitate excavations at construction sites and mines, this case calls for specialized expertise, she says. “You need to make sure that whoever is doing it is analyzing everything that can go wrong,” says Phillips. “You should go with someone who has done it before.”


A group of about 100 antinuclar protesters on Saturday blocked a road outside the front gate of the Oi nuclear plant in western Japan, ahead of the planned reactivation of a reactor there on Sunday.

The protesters, part of 650 people who took part in a rally against the reactivation, sought to block the entrance to the plant in Fukui Prefecture with more than a dozen vehicles in an attempt to prevent workers from entering the facility.

The group is set to remain at the site until Sunday night when the process of reactivating the No.3 reactor is scheduled to begin. The plant operator, Kansai Electric Co., said the protest will not affect the reactivation process.

[Antinuclear protesters block road to Oi plant ahead of restart - Kyodo News]

—-
At the entrance of the Oiigenpatsu are 5000 people gathered outside Oi nuclear plant entrance since yesterday evening more than 5,000 people gathered from all over the country have prevented me from running again all night long yesterday.
[Oi Nuclear Plant Occupied By Protesters | SimplyInfo]
—-

NYTimes.com: In Tokyo, Thousands Protest the Restarting of a Nuclear Power Plant


… There, the situation is very complex. I don’t know what I would have done. It’s how he reacted to the oil spill. You know why? Because he played this legal, moralistic game, as if the—you know, like, I will kick—we know where—BP, they will make—sorry, but in a tragedy of these proportions, you cannot play this legalistic game who is guilty and so on. You should start asking more general questions. BP is evil, but are we aware that it may have happened also to another company? So the problem is not BP. The problems are much more general—the structure of our economy, why are we living like this, our way of life, and so on and so on. I think that this is the problem today. I’m saying this ironically as a leftist. We have maybe even too much anti-capitalism, but in this overload of anti-capitalism, but always in this legal, moralistic sense: ooh, that company is using child slave labor; ooh, that company is polluting; ooh, that company is—that company, whatever, is exploiting our universities. No, no, the problem is more fundamental. It’s about how the whole system works to make the companies do this. Don’t moralize the problem, because if you moralize it, you can say in the States whatever you want. Already in the movies like Pelican Brief, you remember, no problem, big company, even the president of the United States, can be corrupted. No, this excess of anti-capitalism is a false excess. We should start asking more fundamental questions.

Carsten Nicolai, anti (2004)
Regular geometric forms represent systematic thinking and the interrelationship between mathematics, optics, art and philosophy. anti is a geometrical form, a distorted cube, truncated on top and bottom to obtain rhombic and triangular faces. It reacts to the magnetic field of bodies, enabling an interaction with the visitor while its mechanism remains hidden. anti refuses instant recognition. Its black, light-absorbent surface and monolith-like crystalline shape, that derives from Albrecht Dürer’s engraving Melancholia I (1514), confronts the viewer, trying both to mask its form and to disguise its function and thereby absorbing information.

Carsten Nicolai, anti (2004)

Regular geometric forms represent systematic thinking and the interrelationship between mathematics, optics, art and philosophy. anti is a geometrical form, a distorted cube, truncated on top and bottom to obtain rhombic and triangular faces. It reacts to the magnetic field of bodies, enabling an interaction with the visitor while its mechanism remains hidden. anti refuses instant recognition. Its black, light-absorbent surface and monolith-like crystalline shape, that derives from Albrecht Dürer’s engraving Melancholia I (1514), confronts the viewer, trying both to mask its form and to disguise its function and thereby absorbing information.