Recruiters Target The Homeless For Fukushima Radioactive Cleanup

Organized crime infiltrated the Obayashi Corp, then put the homeless to work cleaning up the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
By @LesNeuhaus |
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    A homeless man sits on a sidewalk  in Tokyo, Thursday, June 28, 2012. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)

    A homeless man sits on a sidewalk in Tokyo, Thursday, June 28, 2012. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)


    The mess left behind by the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster in the 2011 typhoon that rocked Japan is costing taxpayers there billions to clean up, but a new, insidious way to tackle the problem is being invented — pay the homeless to do it.

    In the city of Sendai, black-market recruiters hired by subcontractors for the $35 billion cleanup of radioactive matter across a swathe of northern Japan where the fallout of Fukushima meltdowns created a nightmare scenario for the highly-industrialized nation, are stalking train stations and the streets for their labor. Reuters broke the story on Monday, which also details that the network of contracts the Japanese government dealt out conceals the predatory hiring practices happening in Sendai.

    The overall job of mopping up northern Japan of the fallout material is complicated by a shortage of workers. Who wants to clean up nuclear waste, after all?

    And Japanese mobsters took advantage of the situation during several months and were eventually arrested on “charges of infiltrating construction giant Obayashi Corp’s network of decontamination subcontractors and illegally” putting their new, ill-begotten employees to work for minimum wage on the massive effort.

    In October, homeless men were rounded up at Sendai’s train station, then put to work clearing radioactive soil and debris in Fukushima City for less than minimum wage, according to police and accounts of those involved, the Reuters report said.

    There are more than 20 major companies contracted with the government on the project, with Obayashi being one of them, and an unknown number of subcontracting companies operating under those 20 behemoths. Executives for Obayashi have said they are trying to fight the problem internally and are not suspected of knowingly targeting homeless people to clean up the radioactive area.

    Nuclear clean-up workers are often referred to as “liquidators.” In the instance of the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown, an estimated 600,000 liquidators were hired to clean up the mess, or contain it, rather, and many of them were soldiers in the Russian Army. They were found to have had “total body radiation doses of 100 millisieverts,” which is “equal to about 1,000 chest x-rays and about five times the maximum dose permitted for workers in nuclear facilities.”

    Even the U.S. has undertaken dirty hiring practices in the past, when, for example, American sailors  aboard the USS Calhoun County were forced to toss “thousands of tons of radioactive waste into the Atlantic Ocean, often without heeding the simplest health precautions,” for 15 years following World War II, according a recent report by the Tampa Bay Times.

    Of course, the Soviet Union of 1986 was ill equipped to don their liquidators in the proper protective gear, but is Japan in 2013 any different? Can anyone just be hired to do this kind of work. If history shows us anything in the American and Russian examples, then the answer is, yes, anyone can be hired to do the work.

    What is troubling in the Japanese example is that dozens of subcontractors working under their ministry of environment aren’t even legally certified to carry out the basic removal of the nuclear material. And the contractors and subcontractors are responsible for each clean up site, with insufficient monitoring from the Japanese government itself because of the huge manpower required for the project, which leaves it open to the gangster exploitation.

    And those same gangs are even charging the homeless for room and board.

    According to Reuters, a 55-year-old homeless man reported being paid the equivalent of $10 for a full month of work at Shuto. His pay stub showed charges for food, accommodation and laundry were docked from his monthly pay equivalent to about $1,500, leaving him with $10 at the end of the August.

    Now that the cat is out of the bag in Fukushima, hopefully the government can eliminate the practice. But with undertaking of the cleanup effort being so vast, it seems unlikely that preying upon the weaker socio-economic classes to do the dirty work will stop entirely.

    Liquidators will never come from the upper echelons of the wealthy classes in countries where nuclear accidents happen.


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