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.
On a recent day, Ms. Nez and several other residents stood on a bluff near a cluster of small homes and traditional Navajo hogan dwellings as the wind whipped across a valley that once bustled with mining activity.
The group talked of their grandparents — medicine men who were alive when the mines first opened — and wondered what they would think about Red Water Pond Road today.
“They would say ‘How did this happen? They ruined our land,’ ” Ms. Nez said. “ ‘How come you haven’t prayed to have this all fixed up?’ ”
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.
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.”
The investigation that began this spring suggested that the oversight within the supply chain may also be more deeply compromised. A company that was supposed to test reactor parts skipped portions of the exams, doctored test data or even issued safety certificates for parts that failed its tests, according to government investigators. And this time the parts involved included more important items. Among the parts that failed the tests were cables used to send signals to activate emergency measures in an accident.
“This is not a simple negligence or mistake; this is a deliberate fabrication by those who were supposed to safeguard the reliability of parts,” said Kim Yong-soo, a professor of nuclear engineering at Hanyang University in Seoul. “It raises serious questions about the immune system of our nuclear power industry.”
Although much remains unclear with the investigations under way, experts say they know enough to pinpoint the underlying cause of the scandal: an industry that is even more highly centralized than Japan’s, with poor oversight on the relations among the major players.
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