Homeless people near Fukushima are being recruited to help clean up the 2011 nuclear disaster. The homeless are offered minimum wage or less for cleaning the radioactive site, but many are being scammed out of their earnings and have wound up in debt, EcoWatch reports. Many workers are reaching their radiation limits, so the homeless are being brought in to fill their places.
“Many homeless people are just put into dormitories, and the fees for lodging and food are automatically docked from their wages,” Yasuhiro Aoki, a pastor and homeless advocate, told Reuters. “Then, at the end of the month, they’re left with no pay at all.”
“Labor recruiters” hit the streets in the early hours of the morning in search of homeless men they can recruit and send to contractors in the nuclear disaster zone for as much as $100 per head, per day in the most radioactive areas. A Reuters investigation found that part of the problem with monitoring the taxpayer-funded cleanup, which is controlled by the environment ministry, is the vast number of companies involved.
Based on documents released by the ministry in August, 733 companies were performing cleanup work for the Ministry of Environment. Sheer numbers have made vetting subcontractors difficult, if not impossible. According to the report:
Reuters found 56 subcontractors listed on environment ministry contracts worth a total of $2.5 billion in the most radiated areas of Fukushima that would have been barred from traditional public works because they had not been vetted by the construction ministry.
The 2011 law that regulates decontamination put control under the environment ministry, the largest spending program ever managed by the 10-year-old agency. The same law also effectively loosened controls on bidders, making it possible for firms to win radiation removal contracts without the basic disclosure and certification required for participating in public works such as road construction.
Many of the construction companies involved in the cleanup say it is impossible to monitor all those involved in the decontamination because of the layers of contractors and subcontractors for each job. Below the subcontractors, “a shadowy network of gangsters and illegal brokers who hire homeless men” has become a key player in the cleanup, Reuters reports.
Reports have previously emerged on the difficulty of regulating the cleanup efforts, including testimonies of low wages and sketchy jobs. The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) sits at the top of the contracting pyramid, followed closely by the largest construction companies in Japan. In October, TEPCO officials told Reuters that it is difficult to monitor the workers hired by companies with which TEPCO is contracted.
On Thursday, the environment ministry announced that cleanup efforts at the most contaminated sites will take two to three years longer than the previously-anticipated March 2014 deadline. More than 60,000 who lived in the area before will be unable to return home for at least six years after the disaster.
Just last week, a group of US Navy crew members of the USS Ronald Reagan who responded to the disaster in 2011 announced that they will again attempt to sue the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO). Of the 5,000 sailors who spent four days off the Fukushima coast after responding to the disaster, at least 70 percent now have some form of radiation sickness and at least half are suffering from cancer, their attorney told the New York Post.
Their lawsuit alleges that TEPCO officials knew that the cloud of steam they released to relieve pressure in the tsunami-stricken power plant was toxic, a claim also made by the Japanese government. It also alleges that officials knew radioactivity was leaking at a rate of 400 tons per day into the North Pacific, according to The Post.
Crew members were exposed to radioactive water that entered the ship’s desalinization system even before they were engulfed in the radioactive plume. Once contaminated, the USS Reagan was not wanted in port by Japan, Korea, or Guam. The ship floated at sea for two and a half months before being taken in by Thailand.