Fukushima nuclear disaster

Yakuza cash in supplying workers for nuclear clean-up

Authorities turn a blind eye as gangsters supply temporary workers for contaminated plant

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 June, 2015, 3:58pm

Japanese criminal groups are pocketing millions of yen in government funds for supplying workers to help clear up areas contaminated with radiation from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, according to an expert on the Yakuza gangs.

Far from clamping down on the practice, authorities are turning a blind eye because it's the only way that the work will ever get done, believes Jake Adelstein, author of Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan and an expert on Japan's underworld.

"Nothing is being done about it because there is no one else who is willing to do this sort of work," Adelstein said.

Nothing is being done about it because there is no one else who is willing to do this sort of work

"You would have to be crazy to agree to work in those sorts of conditions, especially when we hear of another problem or crisis at the plant virtually every day."

In early March, the Yamagata District Court handed down a suspended eight-month prison sentence to a senior member of an underworld group for sending day labourers to decontamination projects in the town of Date, in Fukushima prefecture, without a licence.

The court opted for the suspended term because the man claimed to have resigned from his yakuza group.

The case highlighted just how lax background checks on the firms that supply the temporary workers are, as well as the full-time workers hired by Tokyo Electric Power at its Fukushima facility.

Underworld labour brokers are reportedly reaching out to their contacts across the country to find sufficient workers to take on the task of decontaminating vast swathes of northeast Japan contaminated by radiation after the Fukushima plant was struck by a massive tsunami on March 11, 2011.

Workers get about 10,000 yen (HK$785) a day, but a percentage of that always goes to the brokers as a fee.

"They're using 'plausible deniability' by going through several layers of companies that dispatch workers to part-time jobs and taking on former members of the underworld, deadbeats, criminals and people with massive debts who are so desperate that they will do anything to pay them off," Adelstein said.

The problem has existed since before the disaster struck, Adelstein said, as criminal gangs provided unskilled labourers to work at Japan's nuclear facilities. Sensing a new opportunity when the government earmarked trillions of yen to the clean-up efforts in Fukushima - a process that is likely to take decades - the yakuza were quick to offer additional workers.

At present, tens of thousands of subcontractors are gathering debris to be recycled or burned and washing down homes and businesses that were under the plume of radioactive fallout that escaped from four damaged reactors.

And the Yamagata case is only the tip of the iceberg.

"The government is pretty much helpless and they're only trying to keep up the pretence that they're doing everything they can to decontaminate Fukushima prefecture," said Adelstein. "The real issue is that essentially the government would not be able to get any of this work done without relying on the underworld, which is why they are looking in the other direction so hard."