January 7, 2014

The Press-dreaded spent fuel transfer at F. Daiichi has gone two months without a hitch. In addition, it seems Tepco has effectively resolved the storage tank leakage problems that dominated the headlines the last half of 2013. Most Japanese news outlets are relatively devoid of new Fukushima news because there’s nothing scary or upsetting to report. But a few newspapers have literally bent over backwards to keep Fukushima-angst alive among their readers. These media die-hards are resurrecting old news and/or making the exception seem to be the rule, using rumor and innuendo presented as fact.

On example is the Asahi Shimbun (AJW) and their 1/4/14 article “Worker aghast at shoddy work on Fukushima radioactive water storage tanks”. (http://ajw.asahi.com/article/0311disaster/fukushima/AJ201401040008) AJW had to go to Okinawa, and island nearly 1,000 miles south west of Tokyo, to find one person who fits with their on-going “shoddy work” agenda. The man, Yoshitatsu Uechi, says Tepco used makeshift plans, cost-cutting measures including use of adhesive tape to cover tank openings, and had disregard for worker safety when he worked at F. Daiichi. He says, “I couldn’t believe that such slipshod work was being done, even if it was part of stopgap measures.” He was one of 17 workers who traveled from Okinawa to Fukushima to work on foundations and storage tank assembly from July until December, 2012. His story literally drips with a personal case of severe radiophobia. He was terrified when he removed tape from openings in the lids of some storage tanks, and then re-covered them with steel caps. He said his legs “trembled” at the sight of raindrops hitting the water in the tank, about two feet below where he was working. He complained that he was given four bolts to affix each lid, when there were clearly eight bolt holes. He was wearing full anti-contamination clothing and a raincoat over that…even on sunny days. These are but two examples of his person angst. One must ask why he agreed to fly a thousand miles to do this kind of work when he was afraid of any and all possible exposure. One must also wonder why he seems to be the only worker from Okinawa complaining about what they did. Regardless, AJW is clearly trying to keep the “makeshift” and “shoddy work” concepts alive, which have been a backbone of their reporting for nearly two years. This also shows how far AJW will go to find upsetting news concerning Fukushima…more than 1,200 miles from Fukushima to find one radiophobic voice.

Next, we turn to Japan Today’s (JT) 1/2/14 article “Homeless recruited by yakuza for Fukushima clean-up”. (http://www.japantoday.com/category/crime/view/homeless-recruited-by-yakuza-for-fukushima-clean-up?utm_campaign=jt_newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_source=jt_newsletter_2014-01-02_AM)  In this case, events that may have little or nothing to do with each other are arbitrarily connected to draw the upsetting headline. It is true that labor recruiters have been offering jobs to homeless people in the train station of tsunami-devastated Sendai. It is also true than one of Tokyo’s 20 labor subcontractors, Obayashi Corporation, has been tied to the Japanese crime group yakuza in the past. One of Obayashi’s recruiters, Seiji Sasa, is currently recruiting in Sendai and JT makes it seem that he is working for the yakuza, but provides no connective tissue. Later in the article, JT admits that Obayashi Corp. has taken an October investigation into their operation very seriously. Obayashi spokesperson Junichi Ichikawa, said “We are taking it very seriously that these incidents keep happening one after another. There were elements of what we had been doing that did not go far enough.” But, JT makes it seem that criminal homeless recruiting is business-as-usual and Tepco doesn’t really care. The JT says “a shadowy network of gangsters and illegal brokers who hire homeless men has also become active in Fukushima.” What seems shadowy is the intent of JT posting an unsettling article missing a lot of important evidence.

The recruiting of people made homeless by the 3/11/11 tsunami should be a feel-good story. I have done my best to show the extreme plight of those devastated by the tsunami, while Fukushima evacuees get generous monthly checks, government built living quarters, and huge lump-sum payments. It would seem that giving some out-of-work tsunami-homeless people a chance to make some money, even at minimum wage, would be something positive. Instead, Japan Today (and their home-base at Reuters) makes a questionable connection between it and Japan’s most infamous crime organization.

Finally, we have the Mainichi Shimbun (MS) articles of 1/5/14, “TEPCO seeks refunds of evacuation payments from employees, rejects ADR settlement” and 1/8/14, “TEPCO demands families of employees return compensation for evacuation”. (http://mainichi.jp/english/english/newsselect/news/20140104p2a00m0na005000c.htmlhttp://mainichi.jp/english/english/newsselect/news/20140106p2a00m0na019000c.html) Tepco does not feel they should have to provide property compensation to people who rented their homes at the time of evacuation. The company is not challenging property compensation for former homeowners…just people who were Tepco employees who rented. It seems all evacuated Tepco employees have received the same monthly, $1,000 per person pay-outs for property losses as those who do not work for the company. Out of some 85,000 persons who qualify for government-mandated compensation, there are but fifteen who would be affected. A total of more than $1 million in refunds are being sought by the Company. That’s a lot of money, but perhaps they should not have been given the funds in the first place.

In one case, a single household is being asked to return $300,000. The employee asked for, and received $200,000 for an anticipated 5 year hiatus from their rented home. This is the bulk of the money the company wants returned. The remainder is because of new appliances and furnishings they bought after moving to another rental property outside the evacuation zone. A second employee who rented had his monthly $1,000 per month property compensation cut by Tepco a little over a year ago, and now wants the money he was cut to be issued to him. Rumor has it that there are other Tepco employees who also had their property compensation cut, as well. In addition, another Tepco employee had won arbitration which would absolve him of making a refund, but Tepco refused the non-binding proposal. Critics are, of course, screaming bloody murder. One said, “The families of employees aren’t responsible for the nuclear disaster. As such, the firm’s demands for the return of the compensation are inappropriate,” which fails to address that the employee was not a homeowner and has been getting a Tepco paycheck all-along. In addition, the lawyer used by the evacuated families of Tepco employees, Tsuyoshi Kamata, says, “TEPCO’s attitude to require families of employees to tolerate hardship is impermissible. The company needs to improve itself.”

Regardless, the Mainichi presents the story in a fashion that makes it seem as if all Tepco employee evacuees are being treated wrongly, which is a significant exaggeration. Plus, these few exceptions to the hundreds of Tepco employees and their families who evacuated, are hardly the rule. But, the bottom line question is this…should Tepco pay company-salaried renters the same property compensation as homeowners? I think not.

Tepco says they are being entirely appropriate, which I believe is correct. It must be stressed that the monies Tepco wants refunded are not part of the general compensation payments of $30,000 per month a typical family of four has been getting for evacuation stressors, psychological distress and other non-property-related reasons. I think this generous hand-out, plus the employee salary, is more than enough compensation for someone who did not own property at the time of the accident.

And how much compensation will property owners eventually get? I have received a breakdown of the property compensation a family of four will receive if they either cannot or otherwise refuse to return home, from the former Chief Secretary of Japan’s NSC, Genn Saji.* The chart shows that each homeowner will be given, on the average, about $900,000 in property compensation. As posted in the Asahi Shimbun last month, and verified in Tepco’s financial statement, an evacuated family of four has already made nearly $1 million in general reparation. By combining the two compensations, each non-returning-to-home family of four will receive between $2 million and $3 million by the end of 2017 (when the new statute runs out). There’s no doubt that the business of being a Fukushima evacuee is even more lucrative than ever.

I don’t blame the Tepco employees (who rented) for trying to get as much of the windfall as they can. However, I think they do not deserve the property-loss compensation because they did not own the property they lived on. The Mainichi Shimbun thinks otherwise and strongly suggests it is the case with all Tepco-employed evacuees.

*Note – unfortunately, Mr. Saji’s translated chart of the property compensation breakdown came in an Email and downloaded in PDF format, without an attendant URL. If and when I find a URL link to an English version of the chart, I will dutifully post it for all to see.