CROOKED CLEANUP: Photos, videos show contractors lied in decontamination reports

January 17, 2013

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

Photos and videos taken by The Asahi Shimbun show that general contractors lied in their reports about shoddy decontamination work around the Fukushima nuclear plant.

The companies, which received lucrative contracts for the project, admitted to slipshod work in three cases. But it is clear that many other violations of the Environment Ministry’s rules have occurred.

The Asahi Shimbun carried a set of three photos on the front page of its morning edition on Jan. 4, when it broke the story about workers dumping potentially contaminated water and debris into the environment.

The photos show a man repeatedly kicking fallen leaves into a river in Tamura, Fukushima Prefecture, on Dec. 14. A pink line on his helmet indicates he is a site supervisor.

In its report submitted to the Environment Ministry, a group of companies responsible for decontaminating Tamura, including general contractor Kajima Corp., denied such acts.

According to the report, the supervisor acknowledged he was the person in the photos. But he said he was recovering a rake that had fallen in the river and never kicked leaves into the water.

The report contained two photos: one showing a rake that Kajima’s group said was retrieved from the river; the other showing company officials inspecting the site and re-enacting how the rake was recovered.

But The Asahi Shimbun captured the supervisor’s actions in a series of 27 photos. Those taken before and after the three photos carried in the newspaper show a rake had never fallen into the river and the supervisor moved to another site immediately after kicking the leaves into the river.

The photos were taken just after 11 a.m. The Asahi Shimbun reporter who took the photos observed the site until the day’s work ended around 4 p.m. The supervisor never recovered a rake.

Kajima’s group said the rake had slid down a slope into the river. But the slope was covered with thick branches and foliage, making it impossible for a rake to slide down.

A Kajima representative told The Asahi Shimbun on Jan. 16 that the group’s report is based on what the supervisor told its officials, and that the company believes his account.

A photo carried in the city news section of The Asahi Shimbun’s Jan. 4 morning edition shows a man in white work clothes cleaning the balcony of a home in Naraha, Fukushima Prefecture, on Dec. 17.

The man was using a pressurized sprayer, and potentially contaminated water spread around the balcony. The use of pressurized sprayers is limited to gutters and other areas. And the water used in such cleaning must be properly collected.

In its report submitted to the Environment Ministry, a group of companies responsible for cleaning Naraha, including Maeda Corp., admitted that a pressurized sprayer was used in cleaning the balcony and that water spread around it.

The report also said a pressurized sprayer was not used to clean the roof.

But a video taken by an Asahi Shimbun reporter shows a man in black work clothes using a pressurized sprayer on the roof immediately after the man in white finished cleaning the balcony.

The photo carried on the Jan. 4 edition did not show a worker cleaning the roof.

The Environment Ministry’s work rules clearly state that roofs must be wiped by hand or brushes to remove radioactive materials, but they do not include a provision for balconies.

A supervisor at one subcontractor said Maeda’s group probably thought it could contain the damage by admitting the use of a pressurized sprayer only on the balcony, not on the roof.

A Maeda representative told The Asahi Shimbun on Jan. 16 that the report describes what the company found through its investigations.

A story in the city news section of The Asahi Shimbun’s Jan. 4 morning edition describes an incident involving workers using a pressurized sprayer to clean a parking lot of a post office in Iitate, Fukushima Prefecture, on Dec. 18.

The story says an Asahi Shimbun reporter told one of the workers that the water was flowing into a gutter without being recovered. The worker said he could not comment because he was not a supervisor.

The conversations were recorded in a video. The reporter pointed to the gutter and said, “Here it is.” The worker stammered and left the site quietly.

In its report to the Environment Ministry, a group of companies responsible for cleaning Iitate, including Taisei Corp., said workers were not told that water was flowing into the gutter.

The report said a worker was asked when the work would end, and he said he could not answer because he was a security guard. The report said none of the workers was aware that water was flowing out.

A Taisei representative told The Asahi Shimbun that the company believes the report is correct.

(This article was compiled from reports by Tamiyuki Kihara and Miki Aoki.)

* * *

COMMENTARY: Ministry must listen directly to front-line workers

The Environment Ministry has received reports from The Asahi Shimbun and others about 14 cases of shoddy decontamination work in Fukushima Prefecture. General contractors admitted to only three of those cases.

The slipshod work caught in photos and videos by The Asahi Shimbun is just the tip of the iceberg. The contractors failed to conduct thorough investigations--even in the cases that have been reported.

The ministry plans to release the results of its own investigations on Jan. 18. But if it continues to rely on the words of the contractors, the actual situation will never become clear.

A team of Asahi Shimbun reporters covering the issue has called on the ministry and contractors to look into what happened at the cleanup sites, particularly at those that were photographed and recorded.

Separately, more than 30 decontamination workers told The Asahi Shimbun that they had cut corners. There is no doubt that violations of the ministry’s rules are rampant.

Contractors have refused to admit improper practices, merely closing their eyes to the inconvenient truth.

An audio recording was taken when workers in Naraha dumped potentially contaminated leaves and branches on the instructions of a supervisor from a general contractor.

But the company said it could not confirm that such instructions had been given.

One worker said he and his co-workers were told to raise their hand in front of the supervisor if they received such orders from him. He said they were reluctant to speak out in such a situation.

Investigations entirely dependent on contractors have reached their limits.

The Environment Ministry has received information on more than 30 cases of slipshod work.

If the ministry releases the results of insufficient investigations, public distrust of the government will only grow, making it difficult for the ministry to justify spending huge sums of taxpayer money on decontamination projects.

The ministry must listen directly to as many front-line workers as possible in addition to confirming violations reported by media organizations.

It may seek cooperation from the infrastructure ministry, which has overseen the work of general contractors, and the labor ministry, which is experienced in workplace inspections.

The Environment Ministry should not release the results of its investigations on Jan. 18 if it needs more time.

(This article was written by Toshio Tada.)

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
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  • The Asahi Shimbun
  • Top: Officials from the general contractor inspect the site; Bottom: The contractor says this rake was recovered from the river. (Provided by the Environment Ministry)
  • A video shows a man in black work clothes cleaning a roof with a pressurized sprayer in Naraha, Fukushima Prefecture, on Dec. 17. (Miki Aoki)

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