12 Février 2012
TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Tokyo Electric Power Co. provided a contamination survey map of its crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant to the U.S. nuclear regulator nearly a month before its official disclosure to the public in Japan in late April last year, company officials said.
The revelation follows a series of revelations that the government data from the System for Prediction of Environmental Emergency Dose Information and the Japan Meteorological Agency's data on the projected radiation spread were provided to the United States and other international institutes before disclosure of the information in Japan.
TEPCO started making the map which described the amount of radiation at up to 150 spots around the buildings in the power plant site on March 22 and provided it the same day to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission at the request of its staff members dispatched to Japan after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami triggered the nuclear crisis, the officials said.
TEPCO officials and NRC staffers continued to share updated versions of the map almost every day via e-mail, they said.
TEPCO only started providing the data to Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency on March 23. It waited until April 24 to make the map public, only after the media reported details of the map a day before.
An official at TEPCO's public relations department said the company had provided data on the radiation amount at the Fukushima No. 1 complex at press conferences even before the official disclosure of the map, adding the utility "received advice" from the NRC.
The government plans to require Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, to introduce a committee governance structure to increase management transparency.
The policy is included in the draft comprehensive special business plan, which will be compiled by the government's Nuclear Damage Liability Facilitation Fund and TEPCO in March.
TEPCO Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata is set to resign to take responsibility for the nuclear crisis. His successor will be recruited from outside the company to increase the transparency of TEPCO's management.
TEPCO tentatively decided Thursday to accept the fund's demand that it hold a one-third stake in the utility through a capital injection using taxpayers' money.
With the veto power that comes with a one-third stake, the fund will be able to overturn decisions in shareholders meetings concerning TEPCO's management policy.
The government decided TEPCO's opaque management practices--including high labor costs and donations as part of its expenses that are used to determine electricity charges--need to be changed if the utility is to regain public trust.
By making it possible for outside entities to oversee TEPCO's management system, the government aims to make it easier to gain the public's understanding over using public funds to assist TEPCO.
In addition to introducing a committee system, the draft plan for new management will introduce an internal company system to encourage TEPCO's internal divisions to compete with one another to reduce costs.
Concerning a financial assistance scheme for TEPCO, the fund will inject 1 trillion yen as additional capital while banks will loan a total of 1 trillion yen.
Alternatively, the banks could buy TEPCO's bonds, instead of extending loans.
To minimize the burden on the banks, hundreds of billions of yen out of the 1 trillion yen will be set aside as a line of credit from which TEPCO would be able to borrow money when necessary.
The fund plans to present the scheme to banks in the near future.
On Thursday night, a TEPCO executive said, "We assume the government wants to hold at least one-third [of a stake in TEPCO] through the injection of capital, as that percentage comes with veto power."
However, the government demands at least a majority of voting rights in TEPCO, which still leaves some gaps between the two parties' positions.
Under the committee-company system, TEPCO will have three committees within the board of directors--the nominating committee, which selects and dismisses members of the board; the audit committee overseeing the work of board members; and the compensation committee, which determines board members' salaries.
For all three committees, more than half of the members will be outside directors.
Under the system, executive officers will be appointed to carry out separate functions of business operations from the board of directors, which oversees management.
(Feb. 11, 2012)
TAKAHAMA, Fukui -- A town assembly member here calling for the continuation of nuclear power is also president of a company that has received at least 700 million yen in nuclear-related construction contracts, it has been learned.
Akio Awano, 62, is vice-speaker of the municipal assembly of Takahama, which hosts a Kansai Electric Power Co. nuclear plant. He is also part of a local organization promoting nuclear power plants.
According to the Fukui Prefectural Government and other sources, Awano's firm, a metal processing company, has around 15 employees and earned about 200 million yen in fiscal 2010. It has an office in the Takahama nuclear plant and has expanded its business on a diet of nuclear plant-related construction.
Construction records show that Kansai Electric began contracting Awano's firm directly in the 1990s, and has forked out some 536 million yen to the company for 67 jobs in the past five years. Furthermore, Awano's company took 66 subcontracted jobs at the utility over the same period. Most local construction businesses get at most about 15 power company jobs per year.
In September of last year, Awano submitted a written statement seeking continuation of nuclear power generation, including the restart of Takahama plant reactors off-line for regular inspections. The statement was approved by an overwhelming majority of the town assembly.
However, Fukui Gov. Issei Nishikawa has said, "Unless the national government submits new safety standards reflecting the knowledge gained from the Fukushima nuclear disaster, I cannot agree" to a restart of the reactors. Oi and Mihama, two other towns in Fukui Prefecture also hosting nuclear facilities, have not passed resolutions in favor of restarting reactors.
Awano has defended himself by saying, "I submitted the statement after looking at the country's energy situation and judging that nuclear power is necessary. My actions as an assembly member and my management of the company are completely separate, and I was not influenced by the construction contracts."
The No. 1, 2, and 4 reactors at the Takahama plant are off-line for inspections. In January Kansai Electric submitted a safety evaluation of the No. 1 reactor to the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, a prerequisite for it to be restarted. The agency and the Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan will look at the evaluation and Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda will make a decision on the restart based on local opinions.
Kansai Electric has declined to comment on individual contracts, saying only that its business partners are "evaluated and registered in a fair manner, with the most appropriate company for a construction job chosen and contracted."
Nuke plant operators paid $2 bil. to localities
Newly disclosed documents show that nuclear power plant operators in Japan have paid more than 2 billion dollars to local authorities hosting their facilities over the past 4 decades.
NHK obtained information about the payments from 44 prefectures and municipalities based on the information disclosure system.
The information shows that the payments have reached 2.1 billion dollars since construction of nuclear plants began in the late 1960s.
Of the amount, Tokyo Electric Power Company which operates the disabled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant paid nearly 460 million dollars. Other utilities have continued making payments ever since the accident at the plant.
Power companies pay the money to promote the construction of nuclear plants. Some local governments ask for donations to invest the money in the regional economies.
The utilities view the payments as part of the cost of generating power and pass the expense on in utility fees.
But an economy ministry panel said last week that the payments should not be counted as a cost.
Host communities have spent the money in various ways. They include public works projects, events and scholarships as well as statues of animation characters and promotional videos.
The host communities also receive subsidies from the central government, but the payments decrease in stages. Until 2003, they were only allowed to use the money to construct public facilities.
The payments are apparently convenient for some communities that are struggling to find ways to maintain the facilities.
As efforts to tame the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant continue, laborers from as far as Kyushu have been dispatched there under illegal labor deals and forced to work inside at least one of the crippled plant's highly contaminated reactor buildings.
A man in his 40s from Nagasaki Prefecture recently related how he carried lead sheets weighing some 20 kilograms each up as high as the sixth floor of one building. A Geiger counter dangling from his neck sounded noisily and his mask misted over as temperatures climbed above 30 degrees Celsius.
"I was really angry because I was treated like a slave," Yosuke Nakayama, a pseudonym, said of his some 40 days at the Fukushima plant, starting in July last year.
The lead sheets were installed inside the plant's No. 1 reactor building to block radiation. Nakayama, however, was not angry about the hard work, but about the treatment he received upon returning home to Nagasaki.
He said he was paid 11,000 yen per day he worked for a company six layers down in a seven-layer outsourcing pyramid, with only the top-tier firm receiving orders directly from plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. He had been promised 14,000 yen per day, and had also been assured he would not have to enter the reactor buildings.
When Nakayama demanded an explanation for the 3,000 yen difference, his subcontractor mentioned the name of a Fukuoka-based crime syndicate.
"We don't care if yakuza show up," the contractor said, apparently threatening him.
A third-tier company to which Nakayama's employer dispatched laborers via two other firms has been slapped with administrative punishments twice for its ties to crime syndicates.
Contacted by the Mainichi, Nakayama's employer acknowledged the dispatch of workers without a license. "We received about 13,000 yen from a fifth-tier firm and we'd lose money unless we deduct expenses," the company said.
Businesspeople familiar with the Kyushu Electric Power Co.'s Genkai Nuclear Power Plant in Saga Prefecture say a significant number of laborers have been sent to Fukushima.
A utility work firm in Saga has been recruiting laborers from across Kyushu since last December, ostensibly for work at nuclear plants in Kyushu and Shikoku. The names of about 20 laborers are written on the firm's white board, along with their destination: "Fukushima No. 1."
An executive of the firm says it started sending laborers to Fukushima in response to requests from its business partners. "People from Kyushu are in demand because they're serious. We will send them again if requested."
A Saga man in his 30s did a job similar to Nakayama's at the Fukushima plant after being dispatched from a seventh-tier firm. He contacted the company after seeing a posting at a job-placement office and got the Fukushima job.
He received about 300,000 yen for some 40 days of work, and absorbed a radiation dose of some 10 millisieverts. "There are no jobs in my hometown, so it can't be helped," he says, adding he is waiting for another Fukushima assignment.
February 04, 2012
A power plant construction and maintenance firm has falsified worker contracts for temporary labor at nuclear plants across Japan for years, according to statements by one of the company's employees charged with involvement in the fraudulent agreements.
Hideo Ichise, 58, and two other people were indicted on Feb. 2 for the dispatch of a worker to the Oi nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture under a false contract, a violation of the Employment Security Law. Ichise's employer Taihei Dengyo Kaisha Ltd. -- where he now serves as business manager after a stint as the firm's Oi operations chief -- along with Fukui Prefecture-based plumbing company Takada Kiko were also charged.
Investigators have discovered a dossier on falsified worker contracts at more than 30 Taihei Dengyo branches, further suggesting the firm has been involved in illicit labor deals involving nuclear power plants across the country.
Police have furthermore discovered cases of various personnel agencies siphoning off the wages of temporary workers at nuclear plants, while involvement of the Kitakyushu-based crime syndicate Kudo-kai has also been uncovered.
According to investigative sources, Ichise said, "We have participated in (illicit nuclear labor practices at the Oi plant) for many years. We have been doing the same thing at other nuclear power plants."
Taihei Dengyo's operating officer was also quoted as telling police, "Our company alone cannot hire many workers, so we (falsified labor contracts) knowing it was illegal."
Other sources involved in work at nuclear power plants have provided similar information, including one Saga Prefecture man in his 50s who worked at the Genkai Nuclear Power Plant there during regular inspections about three years ago. He was dispatched to a construction company by a temp agent called simply "boss." Although there was ostensibly a contract with the construction company and the man worked directly under a construction company employee, "boss" apparently took 5,000 yen out of his 13,000-yen daily wage.
A year earlier, the Saga man had also worked at the Genkai plant during a regular check as an employee of an electrical firm for about two months. A fellow worker in his 50s had to take more than two weeks off after injuring his ankle at the plant but had to pay his own medical bills.
In this case, the Saga man worked under the guise of the electrical firm. "There were gangsters among those bosses, and sometimes two bosses raked off my wages," the Saga man recalls.
A temporary personnel agency operator says, "Parent companies send us requests for a certain number of workers, and we submit a list of people who then go and work under those parent companies at nuclear power plants. We give the workers their wages after deducting our share." Another agent told the Mainichi, "There are times when gangsters are involved in recruiting workers. It is easy for us to hire them because they save us the trouble."
It is not clear why such unlawful labor practices have been overlooked. An inspector at a labor standards office stated, "It is very difficult to get a full picture of the labor practices at nuclear power plants because corporate parent-subsidiary relations change depending on their line of work. It is also difficult to conduct surprise on-site inspections of nuclear power plants because advance notification is necessary as part of antiterrorism measures."
Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yukio Edano instructed electric power companies to abide by the law and bar crime syndicates from involvement in work at nuclear power plants. However Takayoshi Yoroi, a professor emeritus of labor law at Ryukoku University, says, "Falsified labor contracts have been rampant for so long. If the government is dead serious about stamping them out, nuclear power plants will stop running. Power companies and general contractors simply have to directly hire workers, but I wonder if they have the determination to do so."
FUKUOKA -- Three people and two firms were indicted Feb. 2 on charges of dispatching a worker to the Oi Nuclear Power Plant in Fukui Prefecture under a falsified contract in violation of the Employment Security Law.
Those indicted by the Kokura Local Public Prosecutors Office are Hideo Ichise, 58, of Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, Yoshimi Tomita, 59, of Maizuru, Kyoto Prefecture, and Kanae Ikegami, 36, of Kitakyushu's Wakamatsu Ward. Prosecutors also indicted Taihei Dengyo Kaisha Ltd., a Tokyo-based power plant construction and maintenance firm, and Takada Kiko, a plumbing firm in Takahama, Fukui Prefecture.
The Kokura Summary Court on Feb. 2 fined Ichise and Tomita and the two firms 500,000 yen each and Ikegami 250,000 yen. Ichise is the Fukui business manager of Taihei Dengyo, and he previously served as the firm's Oi operation chief. Tomita is president of Takada Kiko while Ikegami is an executive of Dream, previously known as Soshin Kogyo, a plumbing and housing equipment firm. She is also the wife of a gang leader with ties to the Kitakyushu-based crime syndicate Kudo-kai.
"Many documents showing illegal labor were found, one after another, during our search. They proved many years of shady deals," says a senior officer with the Fukuoka Prefectural Police. The case sheds light on not just one firm or one nuclear power plant but the nuclear power industry as a whole.
Sixty-one-year-old Masaki Yoshimura (pseudonym) in Kitakyushu was dispatched to many nuclear power plants in Japan while working for a construction company for a period of 14 years that ended seven years ago. There were many companies involved in his work between his employer and general contractors such as nuclear power plant manufacturers. One of those companies was Taihei Dengyo.
Repairing plumbing was the main part of his job, but instructions came from different companies depending on which nuclear power plants he was working at. Electric power companies, operators of nuclear power plants, paid general contractors a daily pay of 100,000 yen, but Yoshimura got only 18,000 yen. More than 80 percent of his daily wage was siphoned off.
"It's the world of siphoning off. It's a system in which big companies make money handsomely," he says.
The nuclear job scandal involving Taihei Dengyo uncovered the fact that illegal labor supports nuclear power businesses. Fake contracts and unlicensed dispatches of workers are peppered with acts of siphoning off pay. These practices have put laborers in an unstable position and invited crime syndicates' involvement.
"The Geiger counters quickly sound, so you can't work for so long. Fifty to 100 people have to work together. People at the bottom of society are there," Yoshimura says.
Radiation zones are divided into a scale from A to D, and workers assigned to D, the highest radiation zone, have to wear protective gear and layers of gloves. "Competent workers brought with them other workers' Geiger counters so they would not to exceed the dosage limits and to improve their work efficiency," Yoshimura said.
Stopping a nuclear reactor for just one day reportedly results in a loss to the owner of 100 million yen. A retired electric power company official says, "Electric power companies have repeatedly requested shorter inspections. But to shorten checks without changing the number of items to inspect, you have to either cut corners or force workers to work throughout the night," he says.
According to the Japan Nuclear Energy Safety Organization, about 90 percent of some 83,000 nuclear power plant workers who were exposed to radiation in fiscal 2009 were not employed directly by nuclear power plant operators. Their average radiation dosage was 3.6 times the level suffered by employees of those operators.
The Committee on Poverty of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations last year conducted a survey of nuclear power plant workers. Lawyer Tatsuo Watanabe, a member of the committee, says, "From an ethical point of view, we should check unlawful labor at nuclear power plants that is being done for economical reasons."
More than 1,000 workers are necessary for a regular inspection of a nuclear reactor, but postings for these jobs do not show up at job-placement offices. Most part-time nuclear workers find employment through personal connections and introductions. A labor bureau official says: "(The connections) are extra careful to not hurt the electric power companies. Those with strong personal connections have strong solidarity and are tightlipped. They are in a world of their own."
February 01, 2012
Bills relating to a shift in the nation's nuclear power policy were approved by the Cabinet on Jan. 31. In addition to the establishment of a new nuclear regulatory agency under the Environment Ministry, the government is aiming to legislate the lifespan of nuclear reactors, and require plant operators to outline specific measures against severe nuclear accidents.
Significant harm has been done by allowing the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), an administrative body tasked to regulate nuclear power safety, to exist under the umbrella of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), a major promoter of nuclear power. Divorcing nuclear regulation from nuclear promotion and centralizing regulatory duties into one agency stands to reason. Changing the agency's name from the originally proposed "nuclear power safety agency" to "nuclear power regulatory agency" is likewise pertinent, considering the new agency's nature.
However, the mere alteration of a name and rearrangement of an organization will not result overnight in a highly independent agency specializing in regulation. Because many of the new agency staff members are likely to come from NISA, specific measures are necessary to secure the independence of the new body.
It remains unclear how a nuclear safety investigation committee, envisaged in one of the bills approved by the Cabinet, will contribute toward ensuring the safety of nuclear power. Since the Cabinet Office's Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC) lost the confidence of the Japanese public over its response to the ongoing nuclear disaster, the new committee cannot expect to gain it back without demonstrating its independence and competence.
The handling of the continuing nuclear crisis has been problematic particularly due to the government's lack of readiness, which has generated suspicions that the disaster could have been mitigated had the government been more capable of crisis management. Crisis management will be an important duty of the new regulatory agency, and must be attended to adequately.
Meanwhile, some things have slipped through the centralization of regulatory responsibilities. Safety research conducted by the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) and the inspections and other safeguards implemented by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology to prevent the diversion of nuclear material toward the production of nuclear weapons will not fall under the jurisdiction of the new regulatory agency. It remains to be seen how these tasks will be integrated into the new scheme.
Included in the latest bills are the designation of a 40-year lifespan for nuclear reactors and the implementation of "back-fit" measures that would hold existing reactors to the latest technological standards. The government claims that the combination of these two mandates would make it extremely difficult for reactors to continue running more than 40 years. The bills, however, include special exemptions allowing reactors to operate for up to 60 years. Stringent criteria must be set to prevent "exceptions" from undermining the rule.
We hope also that the proposed legal reforms lead to a stronger nuclear disaster prevention scheme. In the case of the Fukushima disaster, the off-site emergency response center failed to function. A fundamental review of Japan's nuclear crisis preparedness is imperative. Along with an expansion of disaster protection zones emphasizing nuclear disaster countermeasures, there is a pressing need to reassess national and regional disaster prevention plans.
Numerous corporations and organizations make up the national framework that had heretofore promoted nuclear power, and their role in "amakudari" -- literally "descent from heaven," referring to the practice of former bureaucrats taking advisory posts in industries they previously regulated -- has been pointed out. For effective regulations to gain ground, it is important to extend reform to such organizations with entrenched interests.