Two local newspapers in Fukushima Prefecture have recently reported that businesses affiliated with crime syndicates are involved in the clean-up operation at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. One of them is the Fukushima Min-yu Shimbun, which reported in its May 23 issue that on May 22 the Koriyama City police and the Futaba Gun (County) police arrested leading members of a gangster group affiliated with the Sumiyoshi-kai crime syndicate based in Nihonmatsu, Fukushima Prefecture. According to the newspaper, they were charged with violation of the Temporary Staffing Services Law by dispatching five to six members of the group to the nuclear power station for the clean-up operation.
Prior to this, another local newspaper, the Fukushima Mimpo, reported on May 15 that the president of Watanabe Kogyo Ltd. in Naraha Town was arrested on suspicion of illegally possessing a gun. He was deeply involved in the staffing of the nuclear power station and was the president of the local chamber of commerce and industry, as well as a member of the Fukushima Prefecture Nuclear Power Plant Town Information Council *, the newspaper said.
These incidents indicate that the businesses based near the nuclear power station and run by people linked to the yakuza (crime syndicate gangs) are deeply involved in the staffing of the nuclear power plant for the purpose of making profits for their executives and employees. At the same time, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) is also making the most of such people, despite its position as a public utility company. In other words, TEPCO and the yakuza have built up a structure of mutual interdependence. In Japanese workplaces where dangerous, tough and demeaning jobs have to be done, there is a tradition that crime syndicates are involved in the recruitment of workers. Nuclear power stations are no exception. In the extremely difficult clean-up operation at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, it is highly probable that businesses affiliated with crime syndicates and their employees will increase their presence.
As Table 1 shows, approximately 350 businesses are participating in the clean-up operations at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. They form a pyramid-shaped, multi-layered subcontractor system with TEPCO at the top of the pyramid. Under the utility, there are plant makers, subsidiaries of TEPCO and the plant makers, large, medium- and small-sized construction and repair companies, independent master carpenters and plumbers, and so on.
Japanese nuclear power stations are required to conduct a regular inspection once every 13 months. Originally, it took around three months to carry out the inspection, which included changing the nuclear fuel rods, thorough checks of facilities and equipment, replacement of old parts and consumables with new ones, remodeling of some facilities, and inspection by the government. Three plant makers, Hitachi Ltd., Toshiba Corp. and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., received orders from TEPCO, and then allocated the orders to their subcontractors. However, the partial liberalization of the Japanese electric power generation market in 1997 brought a number of changes to this practice.
Taking advantage of the occasion, TEPCO designated its subsidiaries as the principal subcontractors and slashed repair and other costs as much as possible. At the same time, the company pressed the subcontractor to shorten the time required for a regular inspection, triggering competition within the market. It is said that the smaller and weaker companies dropped out of the race in this process, and the pyramid-shaped system of subcontractors was reduced by several layers. The result of this was that workers hired by higher-level subcontractors enjoyed favorable conditions concerning the type of employment, working conditions, working period, and type of work, while those working for the lowest-level subcontractors were forced to accept the worst working conditions. Workers hired by the lowest-level subcontractors were paid only around 5,000 yen per day, and were not covered by social insurance or employment insurance.
In the case of the workers currently employed by the lowest-level subcontractor and engaged in the clean-up operation at the Fukushima nuclear power station, the current average daily wage is said to be 8,000 yen, although TEPCO pays 60,000-70,000 yen per capita to the principal subcontractor. This is because each of the subcontractors from the top to the bottom of the subcontracting pyramid takes a cut from the workers’ wages.
Koshiro Ishimaru has been participating in the Futaba Region Anti-Nuclear Power Plant Federation since the 1970’s, supporting the nuclear power plant workers’ efforts to win workers’ compensation. “Because I couldn’t bear the situation where workers could not stand up against the power of the companies and openly tell the truth, I established the Anti-Nuke Information Center in 1979,” he said. Mr. Ishimaru launched activities to support nuclear power plant workers’ attempts to win official recognition for their injuries and sicknesses as those eligible for official compensation, and conducted surveys on radiation damage to their health.
Although he himself was affected by the severe accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in March 2011 and is currently evacuated to Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, he is serving as the representative of the organization. We have learned a lot from Mr. Ishimaru’s activities and surveys. The following are noteworthy comments he has made in negotiations with TEPCO, and the pledges he and his group have obtained from TEPCO.
The late Nobuhiro Sato, who worked at the nuclear power plant for a long time said the severe, dangerous and demeaning working conditions at the plant are a magnet for the increased presence of crime syndicates and their front companies. According to Mr. Sato, there are no other workplaces better fitted to the yakuza than nuclear power plants. Their strict hierarchical relationship between the group leader and the members works effectively for getting jobs done at the plant. The plant workers change into protective garments before they enter the radiation-controlled areas, and this is the time when gangster group members show off their tattoos to the other workers. Thus, troubles in workplaces can be suppressed by force, said Mr. Sato.
Mr. Ishimaru and his group, together with Mr. Sato, complained to TEPCO in October 2005. They claimed that the multi-layered subcontractor system was causing a great deal of trouble at the nuclear power plant. According to them, some of the workers were yakuza group members and had tattoos, which was an abnormal situation for a public utility.
“Illegal acts, such as the forgery of health reports and registered seal impressions (the equivalent of forging a signature or an official rubber stamp), and not allowing workers to subscribe to health insurance and employees’ pension plans, are rampant,” they said. In response, TEPCO said the work contract refers to quality control, methods of construction, completion of the work, etc., and that the problems with the worker’s body or personality are not mentioned.
TEPCO also said the company summoned the deputy chief of the Tomioka Town Police and asked him to give the subcontractors a lecture on how to deal with crime syndicates in staffing the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in an attempt to raise their awareness of such problems. This remark indicates that TEPCO implicitly admitted the presence of crime syndicates in the plant, but used the work contract as an excuse for evading a direct response to the workers’ demands.
Furthermore, Mr. Sato accused TEPCO of poor management of the plant workers. “Worker accidents are usually covered up inside the nuclear plant. Even if workers suddenly fall ill, they are not allowed to call an ambulance. In my case, after having been left unattended for three hours, I was taken to hospital in a colleague’s car. I therefore suffered aftereffects later and became physically handicapped. Of all accidents occurring in the nuclear power station, 90% were concealed.”
Referring to the presence of yakuza in the plant, he asked TEPCO, “Do you know that gangsters and their affiliated-company employees are working at the plant with impunity, betting on baseball games and gambling with Hanafuda (Japanese playing cards) in the workplaces? TEPCO is responsible for the management of the plant workers.” TEPCO officials tend to fall silent when something disadvantageous to their position and hard to respond to is mentioned. That is the attitude they took in this case.
One year later, in 2006, TEPCO reportedly attempted to drive the gangsters and their affiliated companies out of the plant, but gave up because these people took a defiant attitude and threatened TEPCO by saying, “Do it if you think you can.” Asked about the truth of this incident in further negotiations TEPCO refused to admit that the incident had occurred.
Apparently, TEPCO had a great deal of trouble dealing with two major problems. One of them was illegal conduct and the cover-up of worker accidents, and the other was crime syndicates and their affiliated companies. As for the former problem, the situation has improved considerably. Currently, ambulances are allowed to come into the nuclear power station and there is a doctor onsite 24 hrs a day. However, the latter problem is still beyond TEPCO’s control because the subcontractor system is deeply multi-layered and complex, and because the yakuza are so deeply entrenched in the system.
(Mikiko WATANABE, CNIC)
* The scandal over falsified inspection records and concealed problems by TEPCO at its nuclear power plants came to light in 2002. This 23-member conference, set up in the wake of this incident, was composed of five residents each from four towns where nuclear power plants are located, one intellectual, and the managers of the No.1 and No.2 nuclear power stations in Fukushima Prefecture. The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, and the Fukushima Prefectural government joined the organization as observers. The first meeting was held on February 1, 2005, subsequent meetings being held continuously until immediately before the nuclear accident in Fukushima in March, 2011.
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