Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Four Years Later, Nowhere To Store Contaminated Soil

Thousands of bags of radioactive waste on beach

Four years after the March 11, 2011 Tohoku Disaster, the central government operations to clean up evacuated areas badly contaminated by the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant finally got under way in late 2012.

However, much of the contaminated soil and other radioactive waste generated by the operation has nowhere to go, with no clear idea of where or when midterm storage sites will be built and with many municipalities still lacking even temporary storage facilities. Meanwhile, it remains to be seen how effective the decontamination -- which must be completed before residents can return home -- will actually be.

Some of the contamination is stored  in plastic bags and placed on the beaches of Fukushima and Iwate prefectures.

"We must remember to hurry, people are losing patience." said a representative of the joint-venture firm tasked with the decontamination operation in Tamura yesterday.

Eleven municipalities previously covered in whole or in part by the evacuation zones around the nuclear plant have been re-designated "special decontamination areas" to be cleaned up by the central government. In Tamura, the operation covers homes, fields and local forests over some 480 hectares in the east of the city that were relabeled "resident return preparation area".

Just cutting and clearing away the grass in a cemetery here dropped the airborne radiation dose from 1.5 microsieverts per hour to 0.9. While significant, however, this is not enough. Abiding by a request from Fukushima Prefecture, the central government included a radiation target of 1 millisievert or less per year -- equivalent to an hourly dosage of 0.23 microsieverts -- in its Fukushima recovery plan (excluding natural background radiation).

"For a fairly extensive area, we should decide on a uniform depth for top soil removal and other steps to get good results as the operation moves forward," the joint venture project head said.

The Tamura city official overseeing the project, however, said, "There has to be some technique for not wasting soil that doesn't need to be. If they scrape off soil the same way everywhere, there will be just a huge amount of waste produced."

In this special decontamination zone, called the Miyakoji zone, there are four temporary waste disposal sites. Meanwhile, it appears that the city wants to avoid trying to get resident approval for more, which would be a seriously uphill struggle.

At first, national forests were considered for temporary waste sites. The idea was scrapped, however, when it became clear the roads that would need to be built through the woods would be too costly in time and money. In the end, the city established the four temporary sites on private land along a local river on the understanding that the waste would be moved to a midterm storage facility within three years. The Ministry of the Environment, meanwhile, wants to finish the decontamination operation in Tamura by the end of this fiscal year, despite persistent worries over the dearth of temporary disposal sites.

While Tamura and four other municipalities -- the towns of Kawamata and Naraha, and the villages of Kawauchi and Katsurao -- have at least found someplace to tentatively store the cleanup waste, another five are still negotiating with their residents over disposal sites.

One major factor in the inability to secure temporary waste sites is the fact that there are as yet no solid plans to build any midterm disposal facilities, making many residents worried that the government won't be able to keep its promise to move the waste out of temporary sites after three years. The central government is now in talks with the towns of Futaba, Okuma and Naraha -- the former two hosts to the stricken Fukushima No. 1 plant -- to open midterm storage facilities within their boundaries, though progress is very difficult due to the municipalities' fears that "midterm" will become "permanent" once the facilities are built.

"Residents tell us to hurry up with the decontamination, but they're opposed to temporary and midterm waste disposal sites," lamented one frustrated senior environment ministry official.  "Unless we have storage capability then our hands are tied."
Dallas Brincrest and Charles Gannon 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Japanese Government Raises Number: 250,000 Still Displaced

Displacement Center In Saitama - One Of Six In The City

When a massive earthquake and tsunami triggered a meltdown at the nearby Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, Yumi Kanno did not hesitate. She grabbed her 2-year-old son and aging in-laws and fled to her parents' house two hours away.

Four years later, Kanno and her extended family are still unable to return to this once-thriving village — and it appears likely they never will.

Radiation levels remain as much as 10 times above normal in areas surrounding the plant, and scores of towns and villages remain off-limits despite a massive cleanup effort. "At first, I thought we would be gone a few days or weeks. Now, I'm not sure if we will ever go back," said Kanno, 29.

As Japan marks the anniversary of the March 11, 2011, disaster, officials concede that recovery throughout the region is lagging.

Nearly a quarter-million Japanese still live in temporary or interim housing. Hundreds of square miles of forests, farmland and townships remain uninhabitable because of radiation. Endless rows of thick vinyl bags filled with contaminated soil litter the countryside — but represent just a fraction of the land that must be scraped up and hauled away before residents can return.

At the stricken power plant, radiation is no longer escaping into the air, but workers are still battling to contain leaks of contaminated water. The plant won't be fully decommissioned for at least three decades.

Yet even in areas declared safe, many evacuees are reluctant to return. They harbor a deep mistrust of officials after conflicting or hesitant evacuation orders early in the crisis, radiation readings that shift with wind and rain, and disagreements over the risks of long-term, low-level exposure.

"The situation is not finished at all," said Hatsuo Fujishima, a senior official in Fukushima prefecture. "We are moving ahead, but it will take another 30 years, probably more. This is going to be a long, uphill battle."

The magnitude-9.0 earthquake was the largest ever to strike Japan. It triggered a surge of water as high as 90 feet in some areas, washing away entire towns and communities along Japan's northeast coast, killing nearly 16,000 people. More than 2,600 are still listed as missing.

The one-two punch crippled the Fukushima nuclear plant and triggered a meltdown in three of its six nuclear reactors. The ensuing plume of radiation triggered full or partial evacuation of an area more than 18 miles away.

Much progress has been made over the past four years. Virtually all quake and tsunami debris has been hauled away. Tens of thousands of temporary homes have been built. An interim storage facility opened in February that will accommodate the tens of millions of cubic yards of soil slated for removal.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, which harshly criticized the plant's initial reaction to the radiation leaks, issued guarded praise last month for recent progress toward decommissioning the reactors.

Even so, a staggering amount of work remains. Completion of permanent housing for 230,000 evacuees has been pushed back to 2017 in some areas because of difficulty finding suitable land and shortages of construction workers and materials.

The toll of the disaster is evident here in Iitate village.

Officials initially said the community, located about 19 miles from the plant, was safe from radiation. But just days later a general evacuation was ordered as radiation readings began to climb.

Residents have been allowed to return to their homes and businesses during the day, but still cannot stay overnight or return permanently. The village had a population of more than 6,000 prior to the disaster, but now only a few hundred venture there during the day.

"It's eerie here now. There are all these houses and buildings, but at night you see no lights anywhere. In the daytime, wild boars and monkeys roam around like they own place — and maybe they do," said Muneo Kanno, who owns a farm in the village and heads a volunteer group that monitors local radiation.

Radiation levels at the town hall have dropped to a level widely considered safe for long-term exposure. But Muneo Kanno (no relation to Yumi Kanno) said the radiation levels can fluctuate, and higher levels can be found in wooded areas not slated for cleanup.

"Radiation is something you can't see and can't smell. The levels fluctuate all the time. Rain can wash the contamination into a small area, and suddenly you have a hot spot," he said. "Even now, we don't know when we will be able to return here permanently."

Government policy currently calls for decontaminating all homes and buildings in affected areas, as well as all farmland. But wooded areas will be left untouched. So residents and local officials will have to decide the level of exposure they are comfortable accepting, said Norio Kanno, the mayor of Iitate village.

"People still do not understand everything about radiation and long-term exposure. Some people think it's safe at a certain level, but others don't. Are you OK as long as you don't enter the forest? If you have children, are you willing to take that chance? I understand that people are reluctant to return," he said.

Satoru Mimura, a professor of disaster awareness and international affairs at Fukushima University, said residents may not be able to return to Iiwate village for three to five more years — if then.

"There won't be a lot shops or services operating in these areas," Mimura said. "There are no hospitals or markets nearby, so it's going to be very difficult to live there."

Kirk Spitzer

Monday, March 9, 2015

Family Mart And Uny Eye Merger

FamilyMart Co and home goods retailer Uny Group Holdings Co are in merger talks that might create Japan’s second-largest convenience store chain by sales, as operators seek cost savings.

Uny is considering options including mergers with other companies, and no decision has been made, the company said in a statement to the Tokyo Stock Exchange. FamilyMart also confirmed in a statement that it is in talks with Uny, which has a market value of about ¥169 billion (US$1.41 billion).

FamilyMart is competing against the popular 7-Eleven chain which is Japan’s largest convenience store network, and No. 2 Lawson to keep prices down by raising volume. Japan’s convenience stores are luring customers from supermarkets and fast-food restaurants by selling boxed meals and competitively priced groceries and offering services such as banking via ATM, utility payments, international phone cards, and parcel service.

“The merger would give both FamilyMart and Uny greater economies of scale,” JPMorgan Securities analyst Dairo Murata said.

The deal might also increase expectations for further convenience store market consolidation, he said.

FamilyMart chief executive officer Junji Ueda said he does not plan to spend too much time before reaching an agreement with Uny.  "We made our offer and Uny will accept or reject it.  We do not plan to participate in drawn out talks."

Uny shares surged 11 percent, the biggest intraday gain since 2008, to ¥742, before trading at ¥724 at 11:30am yesterday in Tokyo. FamilyMart shares fell 2.9 percent.

Itochu Corp owns 36 percent of FamilyMart and about 3 percent of Uny, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Uny’s Circle K and Sunkus chains had 6,328 stores in Japan as of January, compared with FamilyMart’s 11,271 and Seven & I’s 17,491, according to the companies’ Web sites. Lawson has about 12,000 stores in the nation.

Daniel Rea

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Government Audit: Tsunami Disaster Budget Misused

Rikuzentakata (current condition in picture) was a thriving fishing town in the Tohoku region of Japan.  The town of just over 5000 worked in some way with the once booming fishing industry on the Pacific Coast.  Then March 11, 2011 changed everything.  The tsunami on that day destroyed the harbor, the fishing warehouse, the docks, and the buildings in this town.  The next day brought the realization that the population went from 23,000 to 19,000.  3500 people were confirmed dead and 500 are still unaccounted for.

Towns affected by the disaster have been dependent upon money from the Tohoku Disaster Budget to help them rebuild and help those still left homeless.  While many towns have been cleared of debris, they are still waiting for the buildings to be built.

On Friday a government audit found that of 150 billion Yen ($1.5 billion) of the 200 billion Yen ($2 billion) of the Tohoku budget has been misused on unrelated government projects.

From a high speed highway project in Kyushu to an ad campaign in Okinawa money marked explicitly for Tohoku Disaster Relief and Reconstruction was used on completely unrelated projects.

Some 19,000 people were killed or remain missing following the tsunami and earthquake that struck north-east Japan in March 2011.  Currently there are still 35,000 people displaced in the Tohoku region.  Most are waiting to return to their homes in the exclusion zone created because of high radiation due to the meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant.  These residents have been staying in temporary shelters.

The government has passed a number of supplementary budgets to fund reconstruction efforts in affected areas.  The bulk of the money was to be used to aid those in temporary shelters with food, lodging, medical, and dental care.  Some money was also to be used in helping willing people relocate to other areas of Japan.

But a government audit showed money had been used for unrelated projects included on the basis that they could boost national economic revival.  The findings come at a time when questions are being asked about the speed of Japan's reconstruction effort almost five years after the March 11, 2011 Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami.

Takashi Kubota, mayor of Rikuzentakata, a fishing port where nearly half of the houses were destroyed, said that "not one single new building yet" had been built in the destroyed downtown area.  "In five years, there have basically been no major changes aside from clearing debris." he said.

Speaking in parliament on Friday, Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso promised that problems would be addressed.

"There have been many criticisms made about how the budget for reconstruction has been spent," he said. 

"We must listen sincerely to colleagues and citizens calling for the utmost priority to be accorded to disaster area reconstruction. We will properly provide allowances for budget items that are truly needed for the Tohoku region and we will assure that they are spent as necessary." 

Aso refused responsibility saying, "These abuses began before my tenure as Finance Minister and in fact the auditing process is what needs review seeing as these abuses have been ongoing since March 2011."

Aso had been Prime Minister of Japan from March 2008 to September 2009.  Aso was drubbed in an election by the opposition party Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) and resigned for the inauguration of Yukio Hatoyama on September 9, 2009.

This is the third audit that has uncovered irregularities with the Tohoku Relief Budget.  Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has refused comment saying, "This is up to the Finance Ministry and auditors to straighten out."  When asked by an AFP reporter if he felt obligation for the irregularities Abe replied, "I do not assign money from the budget."

Dallas Brincrest

Friday, March 6, 2015

The Public Outing Of Young Killers

Ryota Uemura murdered in Kawasaki
One week ago police in Kawasaki arrested three youths over the murder of a 13-year-old boy, Ryota Uemura, whose naked body was found on the bank of the Tama River in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture, on Feb 20.

The three suspects are aged 18, 17 and 17, TBS reported. The 18-year-old told police he was the one responsible for the murder of Ryota Uemura, while the two 17-year-olds denied any involvement in the boy’s death, but that they held him down while the 18 year old beat him. They were identified through street surveillance camera footage that showed them and other teenagers walking with Uemura toward the spot where he was murdered. Footage showed them walking back without Uemura.

They burned Uemura's clothing in a public toilet at the park he was murdered in.  Then the young men left the park laughing and high-fiving each other.  They claim to be members of a gang the 18 year old heads.

On Wednesday, a local blog in Kawasaki outed the murderers of Uemura.  Prosecutors in Kawasaki say there is nothing they can do because the blog is not covered under the law, and in 2007 the Japanese Supreme Court refused to hold bloggers and social networks to the Media Control Law which gives a criminal sentence for the media outing people under 20 of their crimes.

Uemura's killers

In the above picture is Left: Higuchi Toshio, Center: Funahashi Ryuichi, Right: Shibayama Kazuya.  These are the three accused of the murder of Uemura.

One week ago, the weekly Shukan Shincho outed the murderer of Tomoko Mori in Nagoya.  The 19 year old young woman is Ohuchi Maria a student of Nagoya University.  The weekly even named the apartment building (White 711, in Showa Ward) Ohuchi left Mori's dead body after hacking her to death with a hatchet.

Ohuchi Maria murdered Tomoko Mori

During questioning Ohuchi told police she wanted to kill Mori for preaching to her to join the Jehovah Witness and that she wanted to "feel the thrill of murdering someone".
Whether one agrees with the Media Control Law or not it seems that many people of Japan see a need to out the killers.  One man commented on the blog outing Ohuchi, "If you can consent to sex at 19 legally then you need be held accountable for crimes and shamed publicly like any other adult."

Charles Gannon

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Lord Jacob Rothschild Warns Of Dangerous International Economy

Lord Jacob Rothschild has warned investors that the world is facing the most dangerous geopolitical situation since the end of the Cols War.

The 78-year-old chairman of Rothschild Bank and RIT Capital, a £2.3bn trust, used the organization’s annual report to caution investors and partners that the focus of the firm would be the preservation of shareholders’ capital and not short term gains through investments.

Rothschild said that “a geopolitical situation perhaps as dangerous as any we have faced since World War II” has created a “difficult economic background” of which investors should be wary.

Rothschild, whose business associates include Bill Gates and Zebigniew Brzezinski, blamed the fraught climate on, “chaos and extremism in the Middle East, Russian aggression and expansion, and a weakened Europe threatened by horrendous unemployment, in no small measure caused by a failure to tackle structural reforms in many of the countries which form part of the European Union”. 

Davos Economic Forum during which it was revealed that the wealthy are purchasing secret hideaways in remote locations in order to escape social upheaval and possible riots. 

Economist Robert Johnson made headlines when he divulged that “hedge fund managers all over the world….are buying airstrips and farms in places like New Zealand because they think they need a getaway.” 

Johnson cited income inequality and the potential for civil unrest and riots as the reason for the panic. 

Dallas Brincrest

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Nuclear Slaves Of Fukushima

Workers remove radioactive dirt at a Fukushima home
At least 400 people working in the nuclear industy in Japan have died from exposure to dangerous levels of radioactivity at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant since the March 2011 disaster.

The incident at the Fukushima plant has revealed dangerous practices likened by some critics to "modern slavery" within the industry, putting the lives of untrained temporary workers at risk.

Employment brokers in Japan are notorious for recruiting temporary workers from Japan's growing number of homeless people to do dangerous jobs like cleaning nuclear reactors. 

The recent poor safety record of the industry has made it hard for them to recruit staff, but the homeless are tempted by promises of much higher wages.  Once the homeless are on site though things do not go as promised.  Because they are temporary workers with no contracts then there are legal safeguards for them and the Japanese government refuses to address the issue because using the brokers and homeless are seen by Prime Minister Abe and his cabinet as "needed evils".

TEPCO has used such brokers since clean up at the restriction zone and nuclear plant began in June 2011.

It is thought that 5,000 people a year are employed on a short-term basis. These workers have no minimum wage guarantee, are charged for all living expenses, no maximum hours limit, and no right to file grievances about abuses.  Many end up leaving extremely ill and die within days they are let go for not being able to perform their jobs.  Hospitals in Fukushima have reported deaths ranging from extreme radiation sickness to pulmonary illnesses due to fine dust particles building up in the bronchial tubes and lungs.

A homeless man living in a park in Tokyo, did a cleaning job for three months at the Fukushima nuclear plant. He says he was exposed to dangerous conditions: "We were sweeping up dust and had bleepers which went off when the radiation levels were too high, but the supervisors told us not to worry, even though they were bleeping. I got out when I started to feel ill." 

The company where he worked has refused to pay sickness compensation, saying there was no proof his illness was work related. 

Many workers get only superficial safety training and have no idea how dangerous their jobs are, according to insiders throughout the industry.

Few have access to medical care or information while they are under work obligation. The internationally recognized safe level of radiation since 1990 has been 20 milli-sieverts per year, but Japan has refused to adopt this standard due to Tokyo's close ties to the criminal elements that run the temporary employment brokers. 

One of the brokers in Fukushima replied to questions, "We run the show here.  Nobody wants to be here doing this work so we use who can for as little as we can.  If this work kills them then the loss is a homeless person.  Their lives are miserable to begin with.  We are doing them a favor by providing work."

On whether the broker thought Fukushima food was safe and if the Olympics should have a venue in Fukushima he replied, "I don't care.  It's not my concern. I eat prepackaged meals from Tokyo."

TEPCO officials refused comment.

Some homeless workers say they do a shift at one nuclear plant and then work more hours in the same day at other sites throughout the Fukushima restriction area - exposing them to more radiation. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Magazine IDs Nagoya Murder Suspect

Ohuchi's picture in school album
A news magazine has defied a ban on identifying minors in criminal cases by naming a 19-year-old, Ohuchi Maria, who allegedly bludgeoned an elderly woman to death.

Tokyo-based weekly Shukan Shincho on Thursday ran an in-depth article about the Nagoya University student, urging a national debate on the reporting of juvenile crime.

Headlined “Evil nurtured within the heart of the Nagoya University female student; the resume of a 19-year-old killer of an elderly woman,” the four-page article named the suspect, printed two photographs of her and quoted people who had known her in childhood.

Article 61 of the juvenile law bans the reporting of information or images that enable the identification of alleged or convicted criminals who are still in their teens or younger, including name, occupation and appearance.

In a statement on Thursday, Shukan Shincho said it had decided to provide the details “in consideration of various factors, including the severity of this incident and its impact, as well as the age of the assailant.” The restriction ceases to apply once juveniles reach 20, the age of adulthood.

The magazine cited a judgment by the Osaka High Court in February 2000 that ruled that running a minor’s name is “not illegal” in serious cases that draw substantial public attention.
However, some analysts say the magazine clearly broke the law. Naming the alleged culprit and printing her image is an “obvious violation of Article 61,” said lawyer Takehisa Hamada, who specializes in juvenile law.

He said the magazine was trying to justify its actions on the implied assertion that a girl of 19 will not change her ways, whereas a younger child may. This, Hamada said, is “unacceptable.”

The magazine chose to run two images of the girl, one in a high school uniform and one showing her in a jacket typically worn by male cheerleaders at sports events. Both clearly showed her face from the front.

It reported that in childhood she had shown “outrageous” psychotic tendencies, quoting the father of a childhood friend as saying the girl used to carry around a pair of scissors while in junior high school to “stab someone if attacked.” It also quoted a resident as saying the bodies of dead cats were regularly found around her house.

The student was arrested on Jan. 27 on suspicion of killing 77-year-old Tomoko Mori, a member of a religious group who had tried to recruit her.


Monday, March 2, 2015

Abe Needs Better Diplomatic Approach

SK Pres. Park, USA Pres. Obama, Japan PM Abe
The Japanese government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last week became the target of diplomatic criticism at home and abroad.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Congressional Research Service (CRS) pointed out the Abe administration has ''jeopardized the U.S. strategic interests in the region by taking steps that have aggravated historical animosities between Japan and its neighbors, particularly China and South Korea."

The CRS report reflects increasing annoyance among U.S. politicians about the Japanese government's historical revisionism that hinders the U.S.-Japan-Korea alliance against China and North Korea.

It also noted that the Abe government's investigation into the drafting process of the 1993 Kono Statement which admitted and apologized for the imperial Japanese army's involvement in coercing and coaxing Korean and other Asian girls and women to work in military brothels can be regarded as a move to "undermine the legitimacy of the apology."

The congressional report was seeing through and pointing out Tokyo's scheme to corrode the statement's credibility a preliminary step to retracting it  while pledging not to revise the first official apology on the surface, in what is seen as a typical dual play that marks the Abe government's diplomacy. Behind the rare direct criticism lies the U.S. Congress' frustration with Tokyo's obfuscation about historical issues.

It was a stinging rebuke to Prime Minister Abe who dedicated almost all of his U.N. speech to the issue of women's human rights but spoke not a word on the most egregious abuses committed by imperial Japan. Japanese nationalists should realize enough is enough. There are clear limits to the international community's overlooking of Tokyo's attempts to whitewash even deny Japan's wartime wrongs and atrocities.

It comes as a relief for Koreans that U.S. researchers and experts are drawing, if belatedly, a red line for Tokyo. We hope Washington will follow the private sector's footsteps. Doing so would not only help to enhance the U.S. strategic interests and promote the universal value of human rights but send a strong warning regarding Japanese nationalists' thinly-veiled intention to deny the post-war system created by the San Francisco Treaty of 1946, as shown in their attempt to revise Japan's peace constitution and become a ''normal" country.

In Japan, meanwhile, a survey of 3,000 college students showed that up to two thirds of respondents thought Tokyo should apologize and compensate the surviving victims of sexual slavery. A women's organization also blasted Abe, noting that his recent appointment of five women to the Cabinet posts cannot hide Tokyo's unrepentant stance on the issue of comfort women.

These developments show the way for Seoul to follow: approach the comfort women dispute as a human rights issue, and form a joint front with conscientious citizens, including those in Japan, until Tokyo makes an official apology and provides compensation for the surviving victims.

The Park Geun-hye administration should stick to this and Washington is also advised not to force Seoul to hold a summit with Tokyo unless the latter comes up with sincere and substantial measures on comfort women and other historical issues.

If President Park meets Prime Minister Abe without the latter's guarantee on this matter, it will result in a popular backlash, damaging the trilateral alliance beyond reparation for the foreseeable future.

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