Gaius Publius: Japanese Mafia Feared in Charge of Fukushima Cleanup

Yves here. This post by Gaius not only reports on the latest rumors surrounding the Fukushima clean up (such as it is) but also the huge danger the site poses to Japan and the US if it is not stabilized.

Like most things in Japan, if the yakuza really are in charge of the remediation, it may not be what it seems. Cynically, Tepco has done such a terrible job that it’s hard to see how anyone could do worse. But the status of the yakuza is not exactly the same as the mafia. Those who are current please correct me if my information is stale but the yakuza aren’t so much a crime organization as an officially sanctioned group in charge of illegal rackets. That may sound like a distinction that is not a difference, but it actually is different. The yakuza have a deal with the police. They were allowed to run prostitution and gambling rings (I’m not sure exactly what other gigs they run, for instance, whether they provide “protection” services at docks) but the quid pro quo was that they keep hard drugs out of Japan. They were allowed to take any measures necessary to stamp out competing crime groups that tried to bring drugs to Japan. So the yakuza are a crime franchise.

Now I actually can see some logic in having the yakuza in. I’ve read (and this is where readers can help, my recollection may be incorrect) that a big reason the site has not been cleaned up is that certain necessary operations would kill whoever attempted them. Only the yakuza could take people and have them do dangerous work under duress with inadequate disclosure about danger (although you’d have to be an idiot not to know that this was somewhere between risky and potentially fatal; it’s also not impossible that a few were people destined to be killed who are told if they cooperate and work at the plant, their families will be taken care of). This way, the government gets its conscript workers to perform deadly tasks and pretends it doesn’t know what is happening.

Of course, the yakuza involvement could just be garden variety profiteering, but Fukushima has already been a massive embarrassment to the government as well as a an obvious and continuing danger to the health, even survival, of the population. And even if the the government needed the yakuza to “recruit” Fukushima workers, it still runs the risk that the yakuza makes a hash of the job on an operational level. Nevertheless, it seems inconceivable that officials would let Fukushima get even more out of control by letting the yakuza play a major role unless they were doing some sort of dirty work that the government or Tepco could not do openly itself.

One other issue (and I hope Clive and others who’ve worked in Japan will provide more color): Gaius derides the Fukushima mess as neoliberal corruption and cronyism. But that’s applying a Western frame of reference to a very different model. Japan has long been a mercantilist nation, with the government setting industrial policy and picking national champions, so deep connections between the state and the private sector is a long-standing norm. There were some good things about that approach. For instance, finance was seen as a tax on industry. Highly profitable banks were seen as a bad thing and Japanese banks had very low returns compared to ones in the rest of the world. It really was the “banks as utility” model until America screwed it up for them (the US insisted Japan deregulate its banking industry rapidly in the early 1980s. I can give you long stories on how far behind the Japanese banks were back them. The BoJ deliberately stoked an asset bubble to encourage consumption, another outcome the US wanted. Nice having a military protectorate you can push around).

The real problem is (and I hate to resort to stereotypes, but they can fit) Japanese are particularly flat-footed when situations move beyond scenarios they’d planned for (not that we score well either, as Hurricane Katrina attests). While Japanese as individuals can act decisively, all sorts of power dynamics really get in the way of taking action when Seriously Bad things happen and larger groups need to improvise.

Finally, this post includes some commentary from Arnie Gunderson and Helen Caldicott. Be warned that some consider them to be unduly alarmist, so I’d welcome any threat level calibration from knowledgeable readers .

By Gaius Publius, a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius and Facebook. Cross posted from AmericaBlog

Here’s your bulk-update of Fukushima news. In brief:

▪ The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), which runs the Fukushima nuclear plant, will delay plans to remove the 400+ tons of damaged nuclear fuel rods from the tilted, leaking Reactor 4 fuel chamber in order to do some “testing.”

▪ Top Japanese-Canadian environmental scientist and writer says, “I’ve seen a paper which says it’s bye-bye Japan” — and we should evacuate North America’s west coast if Reactor 4 goes up.

▪ The TEPCO site is so unmanaged that it’s crawling with Yakuza (Japanese mafia) and frightened Yakuza-controlled contract employees.

And a bonus episode: See why this is the classic neoliberal clusterchuck answer to a classic good government–public policy problem. The details of each of these stories are below.

TEPCO to Delay Work on Fukushima Reactor 4 Fuel Rods for “Up to Two Weeks”

TEPCO was due to start work removing more than 1500 fuel rods (most of them spent but highly radioactive, some “fully loaded”) from the damaged fuel rod storage pool 50 feet above-ground in the Reactor 4 building. (That’s Reactor 4 in the image just below, as it appeared after the earthquake and tsunami had done their work.)


Fukushima Reactor 4 after earthquake and tsunami severely damaged it

Apparently the international concern has gotten to TEPCO, or at least, has gotten to the Japanese government, who had been — up to this point — giving their corrupt friends at TEPCO a free hand.

Via Kyodo News (my emphasis):

TEPCO to conduct test for Fukushima No. 4 unit fuel removal

Tokyo Electric Power Co. [TEPCO] will conduct a test for nuclear fuel removal at the No. 4 reactor building at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi power plant, delaying the start of the actual fuel removal operation by up to two weeks, sources close to the matter said Monday [November 3].

The operator of the plant, crippled in the March 2011 quake and tsunami disaster, planned to start removing nuclear fuel from a cooling pool at the reactor building as early as next Friday [November 8].

The decision comes after a government-affiliated nuclear safety agency called for an initial test operation, including transporting a protective fuel cask from the storage pool to another pool in a different building about 100 meters away for more stable conditions for cooling spent fuel, the sources said.

Two weeks from November 8 is November 21 (another Friday), though things could start popping (sorry, happening) earlier. Let’s see how that test goes. In my dreams, and Harvey Wasserman’s, it would be broadcast live.

I mentioned TEPCO’s corrupt friends above. How corrupt? Keep reading.

Noted Scientist and Science Presenter David Suzuki: “Could be Bye-Bye Japan”

The calls from knowledgeable science and media people — those not affiliated with an apparent neoliberal (privatized anti-regulation) protection racket — to put this situation under international control are coming fast and thick. I covered many of them in an earlier post, including industry engineer Arnie Gundersen and Dr. Helen Caldicott, both of whom are very very worried.

The longtime activist and writer Harvey Wasserman is also concerned, and has a petition you can sign that says, “Turn the site over to international control.”

Now noted Canadian scientist and science presenter David Suzuki (this guy) issues another dire warning. In a symposium recently he said the following (video here; bolded emphasis mine):

We’re always being told these technologies are fool-proof. But what is a fool-proof technology? It’s a technology free of fools…

Fukushima is the most terrifying situation I can imagine. You ask what can we do. First of all you have got a government that is in total collusion with TEPCO, the energy company. They’re lying through their teeth [emphasis his]…

Three out of the four plants were destroyed in the earthquake and the tsunami. The fourth one has been so badly damaged that the fear is, if there’s another earthquake of a 7 or above [on the Richter scale], that that building will go and then all hell breaks loose. And the probability of a 7 or above earthquake in the next three years is over 95 per cent….

They don’t know what to do. And the thing we need is to get an international group of experts to go in with complete freedom to do what they suggest….

I have seen a paper which says that if in fact the fourth plant goes under in an earthquake and those rods are exposed, it’s bye bye Japan and everybody on the west coast of North America should evacuate. Now if that isn’t terrifying, I don’t know what is.

Read to see why he’s so upset. I have verified the fact that one of the outcomes is a criticality (nuclear fission event, not just a “dirty bomb”) involving all 6,000 fuel rods at the site. There are degrees of “criticality” ranging from “atom bomb” (unlikely here, we think) to “simple” uncontrolled fission and massive radiation release. In this case, “massive release” could mean as much as 85 times the radioactive Cesium as was released at Chernobyl. Gundersen (my paragraphing):

“There is a risk of an inadvertent criticality if the bundles are distorted and get too close to each other,” Gundersen said. He was referring to an atomic chain reaction that left unchecked could result in a large release of radiation and heat that the fuel pool cooling system isn’t designed to absorb.

“The problem with a fuel pool criticality is that you can’t stop it. There are no control rods to control it,” Gundersen said. “The spent fuel pool cooling system is designed only to remove decay heat, not heat from an ongoing nuclear reaction.”

The rods are also vulnerable to fire should they be exposed to air, Gundersen said.

Feeling lucky?

The Japanese Mafia Allegedly in Control of Subcontracted Work at Fukushima

This brings us to the neoliberal (privatized, anti-regulation) part of the story. Just as the site is not controlled by the Japanese government, but by a private corporation (TEPCO), the company itself is not really in charge. Instead it has itself outsourced the work to a vast network of contractors, subcontractors and sub-subcontractors, many with mafia (Yakuza) connections.

According to Reuters, the layers of subcontracting go seven or more deep. Here’s RT on the same story, including mafia (Yakuza) connections:

Revelations from a Fukushima cleanup worker-turned-whistleblower have exposed the plant’s chaotic system of subcontractors, their alleged mafia connections and the super-exploitation of indigent workers doing this dangerous work.

The allegations, contained in an investigative report by Reuters [see my link below], have also exposed deeply-rooted problems within Japan’s nuclear industry as a whole. In the report, detailing the everyday realities of workers at the stricken facility, Reuters interviewed an estimated 80 casual workers and managers. The most common complaint voiced was the cleanup effort’s utter dependence on subcontractors – which it is alleged endangered not just workers’ rights, but also their lives.

Tetsuya Hayashi, a 41-tyear-old construction worker by trade, applied for a job at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, after he suspected that the plant was in deeper trouble than it was willing to admit. The $150 billion cleanup effort, which is expected to last several decades into the future, has already required up to 50,000, mostly casual workers.

However, Hayashi only lasted two weeks on the job, as it became apparent that the vast network of subcontractors involved in the cleanup efforts could not care less for his rights (or his health), while Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO), the plant’s operator, was doing little except giving subcontractors a slap on the wrist. …

In this race to the bottom over workers’ rights and pay, many subcontractors with allegedly questionable connections gained control of the impoverished Fukushima prefecture’s market for cleanup jobs. It is those companies that have taken advantage of the staggering shortage of cleanup workers and allowed companies associated with the plant with alleged ties with Japan’s organized crime syndicates, the yakuza, to flourish. And there are close to 50 gangs affiliated with three major syndicates in the prefecture alone – a fact that had an effect on the local labor market long before the tragedy of March 2011. …

In some cases, workers in debt to the yakuza would be hired, with brokers deducting their debts direct from their wage packets – often brown envelopes. What would follow was labor at sharply reduced wages, as the men worked tirelessly to pay back the brokers that hired them.

The underlying Reuters investigative piece is here.

Your Neoliberal Public-Private Partnerships at Work

See what I mean about “public-private partnerships”?  This is the corrupt nexus of government and their cronies in the private sector who all agree that government exists to give business to its friends in business. Private solutions to public problems, because … well, jobs (or corruption) or something.

You saw that in Chicago, with the parking meter scheme, and you’re seeing it here.

What do you call the theory that government exists to serve business to business? Neoliberalism. And no, that’s not snark. That’s the definition.

I’ll have more on neoliberalism later. But for now, this is the world as brought to you by Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and … yes, the corrupt Japanese government. Why should the U.S. take over the Gulf Oil spill, when BP is already on the job? Why should the U.S. offer affordable, easy-to-understand health insurance, when all these private insurance companies are already on the job.

And why should the Japanese government take over Fukushima when its friends at TEPCO are there already, eager to serve (a myriad of friendly subcontractors)?

Feeling lucky? I’m sure not.

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  1. kimsarah

    I’m not feeling lucky. I’m feeling frustrated.

    At least when our government agencies — supposedly acting in an independent and nonpartisan manner — were fully staffed and in charge of regulating and enforcement of industry, they could be held more directly accountable to us.
    Now that the agencies have been poisoned with all-out politicization thanks to neoliberalism, along with staffing cutbacks, experts being demonized and ridiculed, and with most meaningful work being outsourced, industry is now left to regulate itself. And we are seeing the results — little or no oversight resulting in less public protection and eroding trust.
    Government is and has been full of waste and corruption, which should be addressed in other ways. Privatization is the simple and wrong solution. It is destroying our societal institutions by turning them into for-profit operations that outsource nearly all important work to the industries themselves, where cutting corners to make an almighty buck are incentivized. Hence we have even more corruption and corruptible politicians with less accountability, and our safety and security are sacrificed.
    What a grand bargain.

  2. Foppe

    I recall reading (around the time of the man-enhanced accident) that Tepco had been using foreigners to do its “dirty” (as in, dangerous, unregulated) work for years, and that the company made certain they were out of the country before they actually got sick. Can’t find any link, though, as any search terms I use lead to the new reuters article.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Your info increases the odds that my guess is correct.

      So Tepco before got foreign workers exposed to enough radiation to get sick but sent them back home so as not to be liable or suffer reputational damage.

      So with the yakuza in, they can dispense with sending them home. Just work them till they are dying, kill them, and dispose of the bodies.

      The modern Bataan death march, with higher expected fatality rates.

  3. Clive

    Yves’ analysis is correct — the Yakuza are, in a fashion only the Japanese can really successfully pull off, unofficially-officially tolerated. In some ways this attitude is practical and pragmatic; every society has things going on at the margins which the bulk of the population deem sufficiently unsavory yet will always exist. Prostitution is the classic example, with gambling not far behind.

    And, as mentioned above, the Yakuza operate these “industries” — it’s an open secret which even foreigners get to know that many of the “pink” cabarets, some “hostess bars” and almost all “pachinko parlors” (Japanese pinball based low stakes gambling) and massage emporia are Yakuza run.

    And that’s just the vanilla stuff. Handling graft and paying off politicians, usually in the construction industry for juicy public works projects will involve the Yakuza. I’ll return to this point in a moment.

    From what I’ve observed, Japanese society’s attitude to the Yakuza is, again, in classic Japanese style, to be in public appalled and discussed (and notionally frightened) by Yakuza operations. But this is definitely a “public face” going-through-the-motions act. I remember at an office where I worked a well dressed but slightly too flashy by Japanese standards man entered to meet with the proprietor. Nothing odd about this, the office had clients visit from time to time. But the women in the office started to act all weird. Some concealed themselves in the ladies washroom. Some went through a ridiculous theatrical hiding their faces. No-one wanted to go near the manager’s office. I asked who the visitor was, everyone clammed up, again, in a pit on way (I knew it was pantomime because I got the “we don’t understand what you’re saying” response, a sure sign when in Japan the Japanese don’t want to respond to you — my Japanese is certainly good enough to engage in straightforward conversation). After the visitor left and everyone had calmed down a bit, I asked a couple of the women, basically, what was that all about. I explained that I knew them well enough to know it was not genuine fear they were expressing but mere Kabuki. Eventually, I got a sort of acknowledgment that is was only an act — “you have to *show* your lack of respect to these low life”. Any attemp to further probe the contradiction — that the office was clearly undertaking some work or other for the Yakuza — well, that earned me a bit of a shunning so I (as you learn to do if you want to preserve harmonious relations in Japan, which if you’re to be happy there is all important) shut my big mouth. Hopefully that illustrates the patently conflicted attitudes in Japan to the Yakuza — and the happy glossing over of that conflict by the Japanese.

    Getting back to the role of the Yakuza in society and business in Japan. The Yakuza are integral to oiling the wheels of construction, local government and politicians. If the US is in hock to the financial sector, Japan is in hock in a similar way to the construction industry. To get an idea, try thinking of JPM or Goldman — who they know in government, what they do in a commercial sense, what they enable, what collateral damage results from all this. Then, apply that to the construction sector of Japan. It’ a pretty good read across. If anything, construction is even more enmeshed in Japanese government than finance is in the US (if that were possible !)

    Now, think about the Fumushima clean up. Strip out the initial reaction to the nuclear elements of disaster and analyse what’s going on now. It is, boling it down, fundamentally a *construction* project. Labor, materials, ground works, spoilage disposal, permits, all the usual things you need in demolition and building.

    It is almost inconceivable that the Yakuza are not involved somewhere. Perhaps a lot of somewheres. They are the Subject Matter Experts in many of the areas where, say, procuring large amounts of manpower, getting things in site without delays, paying off potentially awkward agencies might be essential.

    So, yes, I think this story is certainly credible.

    1. Clive

      Forgot to add — despite official zero interest rates, consumer finance is a tale of two halves in Japan (actually, a tale of about 30% – 70%) with a minority that have impeccable banking histories and, more important in many ways, a good guarantor able to access mainstream finance with the majority, the young mostly on contracts rather than the disappearing “job for life” looking at loan shark rates. And, not infrequently, actual loan sharks.

      If you get in over your head, especially due to gambling, you might be offered a way out via perpetrating a fraud. Couriering cash for payoffs, laundering cash via innocent looking transactions and, if you’re in the right job, taking a bribe for services rendered are not unheard of.

      So the idea that people could pay off their debts (owed to people you don’t want to not repay) isn’t that far fetched… But that bit does strike me as a bit too overt, too crude and obvious to fit with the usual softly-softly Yakuza mode of doing things.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        I remember the yakuza role in the pachinko parlors and hostess clubs, but had managed to forget the obvious, the construction industry! Been too long since I’ve had any dealings, so I appreciate current intel (which is basically that nothing has changed).

        The yakuza are so powerful that the manager of Sumitomo Bank’s Yokohama branch died in what was clearly a hit in the early post-bubble era. This would be roughly like the head of Goldman’s Atlanta office being murdered. Even the country manager of the US, Europe and the Middle East (and therefore board member; this guy was so competent that they had him running two major portfolios at once) was gobsmacked that he couldn’t get the story of what likely led to the killing. I didn’t think about it much at the time, but now the reason for the extreme secretiveness even at the very top seems obvious: the bank had condoned the hit.

    2. Benjamin

      I’m sorry, I know America is in no position to cast judgement at this stage, but yakuza aren’t just tolerated but rather intergral to government operations? I knew Japanese policing was riddled with problems but…Jesus. Japan is supposed to be a first world country. All the faux shock over recent revelations of Chinese corruption and this nonsense has been going on in our island democracy ally for decades? What a farce.

      Also, whoever is calling the shots on the ground there, doesn’t anyone grasp the fact that this isn’t a normal construction project? One slip up and they could literally annihilate their entire country. It’s utter madness if they’re employing standard practices in this exceptional situation.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        At this point, I’d take the yakuza over Tepco any day. They have good logistical skills. The Japanese construction companies actually do do pretty amazing construction projects around the world, like underwater tunnels. They do the daunting stuff as well as the usual bridges and roads. Tell me who can do this sort of job. It’s not like there are a lot of companies in this business, particularly when killing your employees is an integral part of the work.

        And you think America isn’t heavily corrupt? Revolving door regulators? Ex industry professionals like Liz Fowler writing legislation? People like ex-assistant director of the DoJ Lanny Breuer who worry more about hurting banks than stopping crime? Defacto bribery via campaign contributions and speaking gigs? My God, Hillary Clinton and her miraculous $100,000 of commodities trading profits on a $1000 investment? And the way way over market returns earned by Congressmen?

        The yakuza have a well defined role and it seems as if they haven’t tried enlarging it over time. I’d be curious to get the reaction of people who live or have worked recently in Japan, but it sounds like they continue to mind their traditional franchise. By contrast, our corrupt elites seem to be insatiable and won’t be satisfied until they’ve reduced what remains of the middle class to penury. Are you really so sure of the superiority of our model?

        1. Walter Map

          And the way way over market returns earned by Congressmen?

          I was recently disheartened to discover that members of the U.S. Congress have immunity from insider trading laws. It’s rather telling that elected officials would be sure to reserve this particular criminal activity to themselves. It is prima facie evidence of a hell-bent intent to engage in racketeering. Don’t think of it as a ‘government’. Think of it as an international crime syndicate.

        2. owenfinn

          I used to think the Yakuza had a clearly defined role in this society, but after 7 years of living here I have come to conclusion that they are everywhere. The latest revelation is their involvement with banking(and banking`s involvement with them).

          One thing most people don`t realize is the long history of Yakuza ties to the LDP – and the CIA.

          Illusion is everything in this country.

        3. Rogue_Leader

          At the risk of invoking spurious Godwin’s, the Nazis had some pretty good logistical skills too. They were famous for it.

        4. gepay

          this ties in well with Peter Dale Scott’s ‘deep politics’.
          Legitamate businesses and the government often need things done that are illegal. YOu get the gangsters to do it. It’s that way in India, Turkey, Chicago.
          Ovid Demaris ‘Captive City’

          From the moment of its incorporation as a city in 1837, Chicago has been systematically seduced, looted, and pilloried by an aeonian horde of venal politicians, mercenary businessmen, and sadistic gangsters. Nothing has changed in more than a century and a half. The same illustrious triumvirate performs the same heinous disservices and the same dedicated newspapers bleat the same inanities. If there has been any change at all, it has been within the triumvirate itself.
          In the beginning, the dominant member was the business tycoon, whether it be in land speculation, railroads, hotels, meat packing, or public utilities, Pirates like Potter Palmer, Phillip Armour, George Pullman, Charles T. Yerkes, and Samuel Insull fed the city with one hand and bled it dry with the other.
          Around the turn of the century, with the population explosion out of control, the politician gained the upper hand over his partners in the coalition. It remained for the gangster to complete the circle in 1933 following the murder of Mayor Cermak. Today it is nearly impossible to differentiate among the partners – the businessman is a politician – the politician is a gangster – the gangster is a businessman. Isn’t our present president from Chicago.
          In WW2 the US used the mafia as guides when they invaded Sicily. They thought the dock workers unions in Marseille were too leftist so they used the mafia to “clean them up” in exchange for letting them have a free hand to export heroin to the US. Remember the movie, “The French Connection”. But you were talking Japan
          Tetsuen Nakajima, chief priest of the 1,200-year-old Myotsuji Temple in the city of Obama near the Sea of Japan, has campaigned for workers’ rights since the 1970s, when the local utility started building reactors along the coast; today there are 15 of them. In the early 1980s, he helped found the country’s first union for day workers at nuclear plants.
          The union, he said, made 19 demands of plant operators, including urging operators not to forge radiation exposure records and not to force workers to lie to government inspectors about safety procedures. Although more than 180 workers belonged to the union at its peak, its leaders were soon visited by thugs who kicked down their doors and threatened to harm their families, he said.
          “They were not allowed to speak up,” Mr. Nakajima said. “Once you enter a nuclear power plant, everything’s a secret.” – By HIROKO TABUCHI NYTimes
          The fact that Yakuza handle much of the contract labor is
          less scary to me than the fact that Tepco is in charge of the cleanup. And the cleanup is only an expense to TEPCO. TEPCO is such a shining example of how private enterprise is the only way things can be done well.

        5. Benjamin

          America is utterly broken and corrupt, but at least we have the courtesy to pretend it’s legal. It’s open corruption (though it’s amazing how many people don’t see it, when it’s so blatant and the specifics are very easy to obtain).

          The notion that Japan is in large part controlled by literal mobsters, even if there is more nuance in their position and they aren’t direct analogues of western mafia, is mind-boggling. And that it’s such an open secret that everyone knows, even non-natives pick up on it. In a country of 130 million people, someone has to be willing to risk assasination and campaign for change, surely? And surely there are plenty of people who would support a move for change?

          Of course, isn’t there some stock Japanese phrase that basically goes ‘there’s nothing you can do about it’, and is actually emblematic of a widespread cultural attitude? While that may be useful at certain times, it’s ill-fitting if you want a functioning democracy.

          1. owenfinn

            The unofficial motto of the country is “Shoganai” – it can’t be helped/there is nothing you can do about it so don’t bother trying.

      2. Clive

        Hi Benjamin

        I don’t blame you for your morality here (and if you’re reading NC that’s almost prof positive that your moral compass is set correctly, you dislike cronyism and corruption).

        But sometimes you have to you have to hold your nose and think about the best outcome — and how to get there (even I feel slightly dirty saying that so I do know where you’re coming from). For Japan — and, indeed, the West Coast of the US — defuelling Fukushima successfully and stabilising the structure followed by effective decontamination of the affected parts of the prefecture are of the utmost importance.

        This requires construction skills, know-how in transportation of bulky materials and the ability to move quickly in the face of bureaucracy. Many of these things are beyond the ability of Japanese government agencies and certainly LOL TEPCO.

        If getting anything done in construction in Japan requires the input of the Yakuza and resolving Fukushima to the best extent possible requires the construction industry, now is not the time to cut off one’s nose to spite one’s face.

        But on principe, you at not wrong.

        1. Mcmike

          Sometimes you gotta hold your noses…

          Like we did with the mob and dock workers, in order to keep out the commies.

          1. Clive

            Please don’t shoot the messenger !

            I too am appalled that we’re in such a position.

            But, here as with all too many other situations, we’ve no “good” options left. We’ve only got a selection of “bad” and “worse” options to pick from.

            If there’s a “good” — or even “less bad” — choice I’m oblivious to, please point it out to me.

            1. Mcmike

              It may well be the case that only the yakuza has the chops to pull it off. And that we must look the other way as disposable people are literally sacrificed by the mob for the greater good.

              But amongst all our deals with the devil: the mafia, the fascists, the dictators and right wing death squads, the taliban….

              Will we ever break this cycle?

    3. susan the other

      So did the Yakuza network build those reactors in the first place? It’s hard to imagine the Japanese Gov giving such a dangerous demolition job to the construction industry. This is stuff for highly trained specialists and the military. In fact, the militaries of all the industrialized nations. Japan is totally humiliated by all this. On MHz NHK all the spokesmen for TEPCO literally keep their heads down all the time. And the IAEA and other organizations are now doing their own testing of radiation in the ocean. In international waters. It’s not just Japanese credibility and pride at stake, its Japanese agriculture, fisheries, the aquifer that feeds Tokyo drinking water, the entire nuclear energy industry, and the Olympics, to name a few. If Fukushima blows and the US West Coast is evacuated, the entire Japanese archipelago will be quarantined forever. There will be no more Japan. At least we won’t have to worry about their honesty and transparency then. I don’t think people are alarmist enough.

      1. Clive

        You’re right in principle Susan — the chemistry of reprocessing spent and partially spent fuel is extremely specialist. And untangling the mixture of fuel, moderator, steel containment vessel and other detritus is equally specialised engineering.

        But a lot of the task is construction 1-0-1. Make the supporting structure stable. Make it weather tight. Set up air and water filtration on an industrial scale. Electric power — I’d say up between 10 (conservative) and 100+ (realistic) megawatts, distributed around the site and made 100% reliable. Concrete production and movement. Seawall construction and maintenance. Piping, low voltage wiring, drywall installation.

        The military do no have any of those sorts of skillsets ? Why should they ? Ditto any government agency, anywhere in the world. No, that is basic commercial contracting.

        But you’re right, that’s not to say that in addition to the standard building job, you won’t need one heck of a lot of technical excellence. Plus some stuff which hasn’t been invented yet.

  4. Aussie F

    Maybe they can run the place as a Kabuki love palace with underfloor heating and free entry for JP Morgan/Goldman Sachs senior managment? After a ‘happy ending’ massage executives will leave with a warm glow that will last all winter.

    And there’s a collateral social benefit. After microwaving Dimon and his associates, the Yakuza could give up crime and live like bandits on the PayPal donations of grateful Americans.

    It’s a win/win for all concerned.

      1. Aussie F

        That’s very kind, thankyou. Who knows, I could be on the way to a career in creative garbage disposal.

    1. Ex-PFC Chuck

      You and Crazyman should collaborate on coming up with a bang-up business plan to make your idea a reality.

  5. Ellen Anderson

    Re: Gunderson and Caldicott
    Since the 1970’s when many citizens tried to stop the nuclear plants from being constructed on the east coast, any knowledgeable person speaking for the opposition was dismissed as alarmist and radical. Unbelievably that is mostly still true. Even after Chernoble, even after Fukashima most of the mainstream thinkers are serenely dismissing the anti-nukes a kooks. The are comforted by the federal government’s agreement to take control of the waste.
    Anyone who is worried that the grid may go down should worry about whether America’s old nuclear facilities will go up! Anyone who thinks that the federal government can or will clean up the messes that have booby-trapped our metropolitan centers should really think about how well the feds performed during Katrina and Sandy.
    Perhaps I am naive and too full of hopium, but I think there is still time for state and local governments to plan for the decommissioning of their local nuclear facilities. But first they need to take the anti-nuke people as seriously as they deserve. In my opinion they have more than earned the right to say “I told you so.”

    1. John Steinbach

      In the early 1970s in Ann Arbor, Michigan, I was a member of the Arbor Alliance fighting against Fermi 2. We were regarded widely as kooks & alarmists. We tried using humor by selling ‘No Nukes Nuts’ (peanuts) outside Michigan Stadium before home games. I don’t believe any of the football fans ever got the joke.

      The article reflects the ongoing reality on the ground, In my opinion the Fukushima crisis is the world’s worst nuclear disaster, with the strong potential of spiraling totally out of control. It is madness that the mitigation effort is being run by Tepco and the Government of Japan. The stakes are global and so must be the response.

  6. Jessica

    “the probability of a 7 or above earthquake in the next three years is over 95 per cent….”

    This jumped out at me as most likely nonsense, but nonsense deliberately chosen to heighten the fear effect. Are earthquakes so forecastable? 95% chance of a 7 or above earthquake at the actual Fukushima Daiichi site? Or 95% chance of an earthquake that would be a 7 somewhere and that would shake Fukushima (but perhaps as a 3 or 4)?

    It is quite frustrating trying to get a handle on what the actual danger levels are because the one side is going way out of its way to play them down while the other side is, with not quite the same level of resources to facilitate their propaganda, doing its best to create hysteria. Both sides can easily convince themselves that they are doing it for very high and noble purposes. I just wish there was more clear information available.
    Based on having lived in Japan throughout the 80s (not among ex-pats) and being fluent in Japanese, it it totally par for the course that the yakuza are involved in the cleanup is absolutely par for the course. It tells you nothing whatsoever. I agree with Yves that the yakuza/boryokudan are an integrated part of the Japanese system with clearly defined responsibilities and mistreating lowest status workers is one of them. Also worth noting that they also serve as something approximating a low-level right-wing paramilitary that enforces the taboo on touchy subjects, such as the then-Emperor’s role in WW2. They do those parts of that the bullying that the system needs but that the system needs to keep its hands clean of.
    (By the way, the “lost decades” have not been kind to the yakuza/boryokudan either.)
    My information is as dated as Yves’s but everything about the Japanese system, including how people are raised and educated, works for the capacity to perform regular tasks according to the rules and against any capacity to deal with situations where there aren’t rules to decide everything. Those individuals who do have this capacity often have it to an extremely high degree but they can not coalesce into any kind of socially effective force. There is increased individualization among the young due to the reduced ability of the big companies to provide the full salaryman lifestyle, but this has not yet reached the level of political or engineering leadership.
    I spent a week in Tokyo in January (first time there since the end of the Bubble) and the place seemed shrouded. All my Japanese friends said it was because of Fukushima. No one there thinks they are getting the truth. What we call the lost decades has become the permanent state of Japan. The Bubble years are like some fabled past golden age.

    1. Eureka Springs

      Since 3-11 several Fukushima related aftershocks in the 7 range have already occurred. The last was Oct. 25, 2013 a 7.3.

      1. Jessica

        That 7.3 would be the magnitude at the point of greatest magnitude. It could be much, much lower at Fukushima itself.
        The big earthquake of 3-11-2011 was over 9, but it was only 7 at Fukushima.
        When I lived in Tokyo, a friend called from the US worried because the news had said that there was an earthquake in Tokyo and it was magnitude 7. Both these things were true, but it was not a 7 in Tokyo. It was a 3 in Tokyo and miles beneath the ground in an uninhabited mountain region.

  7. Crow

    Am I feeling lucky? No, feeling as though the other shoe is about to drop. Don’t see how they can remove thousands of fuel rods (1500 in Reactor Building 4) from damaged storage pools in badly damaged buildings and it all goes perfectly well. The odds are against it. Intuitively, this has a bad feeling about it. Expecting, though not looking forward to a radioactive New Year. Hope I’m wrong.

  8. John Mc

    Has anyone pressed Dr. Suzuki on the specific paper he referenced reading during the conference clip? The bye bye Japan comment requires we find out more quickly. Maybe I will email him to find out.

    1. smokethebarbecue

      “I have seen a paper that says…” is a worthless statement if Suzuki will not provide a reference to this “paper” which he claims to have seen so that it can be evaluated by third parties. As a scientist he should understand this, and his failure to provide such a reference damages his credibility and makes him look like an alarmist.

    2. fred

      Suzuki claims “I have seen a paper” but then does not provide a reference so that others can judge the validity of this paper for themselves. This just makes him sound like a fearmonger, and diminishes his credibility.

  9. John Mc

    Between Gaius, Yves, and clive’s posts, I wonder if it would make some sense to contact Dr. Suzuki for further information.

    In looking at his website, Dr. Suzuki does not accept emails (probably wise in this regard), but only faxed or mailed requests.

    Fax: 604-730-9672
    Mail: c/o 219-2211 West 4th Ave., Vancouver, BC V6K 4S2

    If someone with immediate fax access (as I do not) might ask him about the paper he is referencing during this conference that would be helpful to know as I curious about this paper. Although, it is certainly possible that it is not in publishable form.

    1. JEHR

      If Dr. Suzuki is alarmed, then we should certainly be extremely alarmed. In Canada, he produces a program on TV called The Nature of Things and he is not known for being alarmist. He backs up his ideas with factual evidence. (His parentage is Japanese.)

      1. John Mc


        I contacted the moderator of the Letting the Light In Conference (Andrew Nikiforuk) to see if he had any insights to this question. Will keep everyone informed to what I receive.

      2. PaulinLondon

        Whether or not he is justified in this case I’m in no position to determine, but the one thing David Suzuki is consistently is alarmist over everything.

  10. LucyLulu

    I don’t know anything about the yakuza and haven’t heard anything about their involvement however I haven’t kept current. I can provide some historical perspective though, pre-disaster and surely it has continued. Japan has an underclass of nuclear workers, much like the Roma in Western Europe. It’s their dirty little secret that nobody talks about. Exposure to radiation is a stigma anyway in Japan. It’s a cultural thing, hangover from Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Those exposed had health problems and more importantly had babies with birth defects. They became known as undesirable mates and were shunned. People now do not want to admit exposure, there is deep shame.

    So this class of workers travels around to different plants, often working in substandard conditions cleaning up after accidents. They stay hidden from the rest of society and are poor. When they become sick with cancer or acute radiation illnesses they have a difficult time accessing medical care. The yakuza may be linked to them. I’ll see if I can find the videos on these people. They’re quite good, IIRC they won some (probably obscure) awards for best documentarcoy, and there is little other info on these people.

    As far as risking lives, the first month or two, they had plenty of volunteers. Older nuclear workers were willing to sacrifice their lives so that younger workers could be spared. If they got cancer in 20 years? They’d be dead by then anyways.

    About pool #4 taking out all of Japan, or even all of Honshu, and needing to evacuate the west coast. Hyperbole. I’ll see if I can find the papers by Sandia or NRC or Alvarez, I think I posted the last before, about the worst case scenario of a pool fire. Recall our spent fuel pools are stacked 3 to 4 times as dense as theirs. The recommendation is a 50 mile radius evacuation. Recriticality is unlikely. It requires the correct geometry and a moderator, namely water. If the pool collapses and runs dries, there is no water, no moderator for reaction. If water remains, boron can be added to water, boron acts as poison to fission reaction. Fire is a real possibility. But the fuel rods have aged, and have far less heat. None have been burned since Nov 2010, or three years. After five years, they are cool enough for dry casks and air cooling. Also there are control rods in the pools. Just not as many as in the reactor. They would add boron if there was a concern, e.g. pool was heating up towards boiling.

    A test run, transporting an empty fuel cask first, sounds to me like an excellent idea. I can’t imagine they wouldn’t want to do a test run. This transport will be very different from any others they have done. The equipment is kaput from the quake and the building is not in good enough shape to move in new equipment. So, this will be all done manually, without the benefit of all the fancy instrumentation.

    Fukushima last had a quake of 7.3M (maximum movement, nobody except US uses Richter, which is max wave amplitude….. but scales are kinda equivalent) a couple weeks ago. Earlier this week, they had another quake, somewhere in the 5’s. They have had many quakes since the Great One, they have them all the time, though I don’t know how many have scored over 7.0. The Japan Meteorological website has data about all the earthquakes they have there, some every week somewhere in Japan. They call it “The Ring of Fire.” You may want to use that info to add some perspective to the next quake of 7.0 causing the apocalypse.

  11. Ellen Anderson

    @Jessica, Lucy Lu and other NRC fans:
    Anti-nuclear activists have been subject to these patronizing screeds for years. If ever there was a time for alarm this is it. Time to remain cool is over. (reference Oscar Brown Jr.s “But I was cool” that we used to listen to in Ann Arbor. Go Blue, John Steinbach!)

  12. lung

    Can you imagine evacuating Japan and the West Coast?

    Me neither. No matter what happens, the authorities will say everything is safe, and everyone who disagrees is “alarmist.”

  13. skippy

    From my initial observations when the explosions occurred, the building[s structual integrity are a complete unknown and due to the working environment – will stay that way. This means all activity is based on gross assumption or best guess.

    Skippy… This is probably the most difficult EOD exercise ever attempted, more safe clearing minefields and IEDs.

    1. LucyLulu

      They’ve had drones initially, courtesy of, and since then, private drones and hardened robots inside the buildings taking different types of pictures and videos and gathering other data. There are very few places the robots haven’t been able to enter due to radiation levels exceeding what the robots can tolerate for even short periods of time.

      My understanding is that unit #4 suffered the most serious structural damage. Fortunately, it also didn’t have a melted core significant work was done to shore up the pool as well as repair the leak(s) that were causing the loss of cooling water covering the spent fuel rods.

      1. skippy

        @LucyLulu – Visual inspection is just cursory and of poor quality. Had those explosions taken place in a average building, of same dimensions but typical spec, in say Manhattan… well… not only would the building be gone… you could add about a Sq block to it. This is acerbated by seismic damage to the vertical base / horizontal foundation of the building.

        Short recap –

        skippy… sorry to say, but, the discovery on this structure is low quality, hence discovery will proceed with recovery efforts… good times… been there done that.

  14. holygrail

    The only thing I get in clear from this post is that nobody here lives in Japan. If you did, you wouldn’t accept “I’ve read something that said we are all doomed”. You would have a higher standard of evidence for such preposterous claims and you wouldn’t publish them before having at least checked the source if only to avoid possibly unfounded panic.

    You wouldn’t say something as vague as “a 7+ earthquake would be fatal and there’s 95% chance of that” without specifying where would it have to be (there’s been loads of 7+ earthquakes all over Japan since the big one and there’s been no trouble).

    And all this Yakuza stuff smells like purely yellow press. Use a scary but click friendly word, spend 3 paragraphs talking about how bad they are and then admit that we have no idea of their involvement beyond “allegations” and even if it were true it seems it would be a highly irrelevant fact (a few employees working for cleaning subcontractors).

    To me as a person worried about real effects this seemed as 95% spurious information with 5% very scary stuff but completely devoid of anything backing it up. But I understand that for somebody who only wants to read morbid news, the yakuza stuff is tasty.

    I want to know more about the Fukushima crisis and I’m interested in informed and balanced opinions. Please stop this cheap alarmism and click baiting. Do your homework, give us links to credible scientific papers, measurements, evidence, interviews with relevant people, etc. It’s also not enough to link to some activists who are always biased. I’ve seen articles about “secret radiation leaks” and “mutant butterflies” suggesting we are all contaminated (all the way up to the US some claim!) but don’t explain reports on infant mortality and cancer occurrences in Fukushima itself coming negative or published experts analyzing food and finding it safe. Good journalism presents the two views and where they dissent, not just systematically air the most alarmist one. Please keep the discussion honest and based on reality, that was the reason I’ve started reading this blog.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      With all due respect, you are dead wrong about the yakuza. They are a major player in Japan, deeply involved in the construction industry. This is unlikely to be a matter of a few people. Did you bother reading Clive’s and my comments? I didn’t just work for a Japanese bank, I worked in the Japanese hierarchy, a position virtually no Westerns have occupied (virtually all are hired into a gaijin ghetto to work with foreign clients). And the yakuza were able assassinate a senior executive of a bank and both the banks and the police turned their heads (this in a country with a 99% conviction rate). That’s an indictor of how powerful they are.

      I flagged that the reports on the nuclear risks might be overstated, but you’ll note he had three separate sources, all of whom have been widely quoted. And while the nuclear industry types have been saying nothing really terrible will happen, we also got official assurances during the Deepwater Horizon disaster that were inaccurate.

      This article indicates the degree to which the Japanese are keeping some key health metrics under wraps post Fukushima.

      And in general, you won’t find much media discussion of things that are widely known in Japan (like how securities firms bribed members of the Diet by letting them know in advance what the “stock of the week” would be. My God, everyone knew that in the 1980s, even the gaijin working in Tokyo, yet somehow it wasn’t “official” news and therefore a scandal, until the 1990s.

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