The Ides Of October: Japan’s nuclear reprocessing “dream” is the world’s nightmare

Japan plans to restart its troubled nuclear fuel reprocessing facility, Rokkasho (六ヶ所再処理工場)  in October of this year, but is that a good idea? Experts say Japan should simply shutter its nuclear reprocessing plants & avoid making more dangerous plutonium. Why doesn’t this happen? We decided to see if we could explain. Here is our short primer on the nuclear fuel cycle follies of the land of the rising sun.

Why do most nuclear power dependent countries including Japan want to reprocess spent nuclear fuel?

 This is a very good question. If you have no idea what reprocessing nuclear fuel is all about, please hold on. We’ll get to that. Let’s talk a little bit about nuclear plants in general.

The Rokkasho Nuclear Fuel Cycle PR Center can explain to you why nuclear spent fuel is so hand to have.
The Rokkasho Nuclear Fuel Cycle PR Center can explain to you why nuclear spent fuel is so handy to have.

Guess what? Building a nuclear power plant on a volcanic island isn’t a good idea. In fact, it’s probably very dangerous and stupid. This is the conclusion the island nation of Taiwan reached last week. Taiwan’s government said on Thursday it would seal off a nuclear power plant due to open next year. The public has repeatedly criticized the plant as unsafe, and it will be shut for three years, at a cost of nearly 162 million dollars, pending a referendum on its future.

Meanwhile, under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Japan is rushing to restart its nuclear reactors (despite widespread opposition) and plans to reopen the dysfunctional Rokkasho Nuclear Reprocessing Facility in October. Japan’s plans to have a self-perpetuating nuclear fuel cycle have been a colossal & expensive failure—and the Rokkasho facility (as well as many other nuclear facilities) pose a serious threat to the safety of those living near them and possibly the rest of the world. Japan’s nuclear security is poor at best and the workers are not screened making them a potential target for terrorists.

Mr. Frank von Hippel, Professor Emeritus of Princeton University, and Mr. Klaus Janberg, former CEO of a German nuclear service company and nuclear advisor, told reporters in Tokyo last month that storage of spent nuclear fuel should be an alternative to the reopening of the Rokkasho Spent Nuclear Fuel Reprocessing Plant operational this year. Mr. Hippel is the former Assistant Director for National Security in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. He advised the Clinton White House on aspects of the joint U.S.-Russian non-proliferation programs.

Why does Japan reprocess nuclear fuel even though it would be far cheaper to store it?
Why does Japan reprocess nuclear fuel  even though it would be far cheaper to store it (saving at least 2 billion dollars a year)? Because they don’t have enough space.

As mentioned above, Japan’s nuclear reprocessing plant is planned to finally start running by this October, after more than 20 years of disastrous attempts to make it work. In July of this year, the two nuclear experts proposed to the Japanese government, including the Foreign Ministry and METI (Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry) officials that it would be advisable to install dry cask spent fuel storage units at nuclear power plants sites and elsewhere to prevent the Rokkasho reprocessing plant from generating plutonium that would further increase Japan’s excess stock. They said their proposal could help implement possible alternatives to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s commitment made at this year’s March Nuclear Security Summit at The Hague not to possess plutonium reserves without specified purposes. Abe pledged to minimize stocks of separated plutonium by matching supply and demand.

The two experts spoke at the FCCJ on July 1st about Nuclear Security and Reprocessing: Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage Option & an Alternative to the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant. We have summarized the Q & A below, adding exposition where we felt it was needed.

Frank von Hippel, Professor Emeritus of Princeton University (right)  Klaus Janberg (left), Former CEO of Gesellschaft für Nuklear Service, experts in the nuclear industry say Japan should leave Rokkasho nuclear fuel reprocessing plant shut and store nuclear waste.
Frank von Hippel, Professor Emeritus of Princeton University (left)
Klaus Janberg (right), Former CEO of Gesellschaft für Nuklear Service, experts in the nuclear industry say Japan should leave Rokkasho nuclear fuel reprocessing plant shut and store nuclear waste.

Why do most nuclear power dependent countries including Japan want to reprocess spent nuclear fuel?

 The Rokkasho plutonium plant was built to end Japan’s dependence on imported uranium, oil, gas and coal. Most countries started civilian reprocessing to acquire plutonium breeder reactors, like the Monju breeder reactor, in Japan. It turned out that such reactors are much more expensive and much less reliable than water-cooling reactors. Currently, the argument in Japan is that spent fuel pools are filling up and it is necessary to have a place where to send the spent fuel. Rokkasho is the only place.

This chart shows how nuclear fuel reprocessing would work ideally. "Let's recycle our limited important resources!" Yes, let's. Just don't spill any plutonium or let the bad kids get any.
This chart shows how nuclear fuel reprocessing would work ideally. “Let’s recycle our limited important resources!” Yes, let’s. Just don’t spill any plutonium or let the bad kids get any.

“TEPCO and KEPCO (Kansai Electric Power Company) built and completed in Mutsu city, in Aomori Prefecture, a spent fuel storage facility, which would be much enough for storing the spent fuel but Aomori, which also hosts the Rokkasho reprocessing plant is reluctant to use the storage facility unless the reprocessing plans begins,” says Frank von Hippel, He explained it was a political problem rather than a technological problem.

There is a nuclear fuel storage facility not being used due to political reasons rather than technical ones.
There is a nuclear fuel storage facility not being used due to political reasons rather than technical ones.

 

Several countries like the UK an the US have also tried to operate plutonium “breeder” programs but abandoned them after several accidents occurred and because they have come to the conclusion that it was not economically feasible. They are now struggling with what to do with the tons of leftover plutonium.

Japan is the last state without nuclear weapons to still reprocess spent nuclear fuel.

Japanese officials also know how costly it is to continue the project that started almost thirty years ago. But why do they insist continuing the process?

 “Keep the zombie alive”

 

Why does Japan cling to its spent nuclear fuel reprocessing program despite all the economic and technical problems?

Japan cannot stop its nuclear fuel cycle plans because the Japanese government has an agreement with Aomori Prefecture, where the Rokkasho plant (located in Rokkasho village) was built. If they can’t reprocess the spent fuel stored there, Aomori Prefecture will remove it immediately. According to high Japanese government officials, the agreement is equivalent to an international treaty, therefore it cannot be turned over. Besides, Japan has nowhere else to move away the fuel. And which country in the world outside of Japan could ever take it? Right now, all the spent nuclear fuel (使用済み核燃料) stored at Japan’s nuclear facilities, on the assumption that it can be reprocessed, is counted as an asset by the power companies.

If Japan abandons its nuclear fuel cycle plans, the “asset” would become a huge liability and every single electric power company would become insolvent. In other words, as long as the pipe-dream of nuclear fuel reprocessing is government policy,  the nuclear waste itself— is an asset; it has value. But if the stored fuel is found to have no value, than the fuel and the costs of storing it–all of this become a liability. If this were to happen, TEPCO, (Tokyo Electric Power Company) is already a de facto insolvent entity. The so-called nuclear village insists that this would be disastrous for the Japanese economy.

The current administration wants to make sure Rokkasho is ready to go and restart reactors to keep TEPCO alive. If TEPCO has another fiscal period where they are in the red, banks will stop lending them money. Restarting the reactors is one way to keep the TEPCO zombie alive.

Now, you may counter by saying, “Hey didn’t TEPCO make 4 billion dollars last year?” Yes, well part of that was a gift from the Abe government which agreed to pick up 47 billion yen (That’s $458,134,380) worth of cleanup costs for the water leaking out of Fukushima—because TEPCO was doing such a lousy job. Okay, well, 3.5 billion is still a great profit. And TEPCO will stay in the black—just as long as nuclear waste is considered an asset.

Some current and former U.S. officials said they expect Japanese officials will abandon their plutonium fuel program once they realize how much it will cost. But it isn’t happening.

The US has been building a MOX plant for its excess weapon plutonium, it was supposed to be operating in 2007 but experts are now saying it can start by 2020. But it has become so expensive that the Obama Administration is talking about abandoning the project and trying to find another cheaper way to the plutonium disposal management.

But for Japan, which is supposed to be a country of honor and promises kept, it is very unlikely. Reportedly, Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda in 1977 called the program’s promise of energy independence a “life and death” issue, and that attitude persists at the highest level of the Japanese government.

“It is in the Japanese mentality to never go back after they made an agreement,” a prominent anti-nuclear activist and attorney told JSRC when discussing the agreements in place that keep Aomori’s Rokkasho plant alive.

How safe is the Rokkasho plant from terrorism? The IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) is formerly responsible for ensuring that plutonium does not get removed from the Rokkasho plant by a third party, how accurate is the system installed there since it is going to start operating this October?

The measures and accuracies for the IAEA checks that plutonium won’t leak from the plant is of about 1%. If operating at full capacity, it would separate about 8 thousand kg of plutonium per year. Therefore 1% accuracy is about 80kg. The IAEA considers 8kg is enough to make a nuclear weapon. In other words, if the 1% not accounted for was actually stolen, it would be enough material to produce the equivalent of 10 nuclear weapons in a year. The IAEA recognizes that that’s not good enough, and added a system they called “surveillance and containment,” to monitor all the doors to ensure the plutonium could not be stolen.

“I don’t know about Rokkasho. The problem is that there is no way to check within the accuracy measurement that everything is still there. Reprocessing is recognized as a serious problem for safeguards and for these reasons, even though the IAEA spends globally 20% of its safeguard budget on Rokkasho and Tokaimura, it is recognized as being a hugely costly operation,” Frank von Hippel explained.

The US spends about a billion us dollars a year for the security of nuclear materials. Even so, the US still has some problems. Last year, an 82 year-old nun reportedly penetrated the security system and went to the central part of a nuclear facility. There is no perfect security. “The only perfect security is to not have the nuclear material in the first place.” Von Hippel said. “If you aren’t making nuclear weapons, I’d argue that nobody needs to have the nuclear material that could be used to build them.” (Of course, some would argue that Japan wants plutonium precisely for those reasons.)

Final disposal of the spent nuclear fuel: at which stage is the nuclear material less harmful?

The fuel is the most dangerous when it’s in the reactor, becomes less dangerous when it goes into a pool, even less dangerous when it goes into a cask, and least dangerous when the cask is buried deep underground. The two countries that understood that it isn’t in their best interests to keep the spent fuel on the surface of the earth forever are Sweden and Finland. The issue in Japan may be the suitability of the geological situation of the country. Those casks that contains spent fuel elements under helium that keeps the fuel intact—they can keep the fuel for about 38 or 39 years.

Why do the power companies not want to abandon nuclear power? 

Nihon Gennen, the company which owns the Rokkasho plant, is currently bearing a huge debt for the construction of the Rokkasho reprocessing plant, and the electric power companies are guaranteeing/insuring this debt. The current law states that the money to pay back the debt with the fund raised by the consumers can’t be used if the Rokkasho reprocessing plant is not running. The moment you say that you stop the Rokkasho reprocessing plant, Nihon Gennen will go bankrupt. And the debt will be a loss for the electric power companies. The major electric power companies will register a collective loss of about 2 trillion yen and those companies can’t endure this.

Instead of thinking about all these impossible things, Japan believes it will be easier to start running the reprocessing plant. If the reprocessing plant becomes operational, there will be an additional amount of plutonium that will be produced, and that plutonium will be useless without the Monju plant running. In which case the plutonium will have to be burnt with (plutonium thermal use) MOX fuel. And therefore they can’t stop the MOX plant either.

As long as Rokkasho and Monju keep running, the power companies make money—if they are put out of commission, the power companies fail. All the politicians, scholars, ex-bureaucrats, investors and their cronies who are riding the nuclear gravy train will be left out in the cold and suffer losses as well. The so-called costs of nuclear energy do not take into account compensations for disaster, nor the costs of storing nuclear waste for centuries. The cost is only cheap for the power companies—the taxpayers pick up the rest of the bill. The storage facilities for nuclear waste in Japan are nearly full and no one wants to take them.

Kei Shimada, a japanese photographer and director of the documentary movie “Rokkasho Mirai” (2013) told JSRC that at the time under the DPJ, right after the Fukushima nuclear accident, when the cabinet proposed the zeroing out of nuclear power stations in all Japan, the head of Rokkasho village and the city hall members opposed the phasing out of nuclear energy and they repeatedly went to Tokyo to demand the continuation of the nuclear energy policy.

“As for the villagers, there are so many of them who work at the Rokkasho plant, that in case a zero nuclear energy policy in Japan is decided, and in case the Rokkasho plant has to close, they will all lose their jobs. That’s the kind of reaction I heard from the villagers of Rokkasho when the government was walking towards a no nuke policy. Therefore, I think that after the LDP started ruling the country, the people around Rokkasho were happy about the movement to restart the nuclear power plants. But it doesn’t mean that the anxiety has disappeared. I think the people are anxious, but they are also torn between the fact that they will loose their jobs and therefore their living.”

The Rokkasho reprocessing plant is designed to extract metal from spent reactor fuel. If it starts running this time, it will separate more plutonium, despite the fact that Japan already has about 45 tons of it stockpiled in Europe and domestically–enough for more than 5,000 nuclear bombs. The US and the IAEA has continually raised concerns that the lax security at Japan’s nuclear power plants—which do not even run background checks on the workers–and tolerate yakuza (gangsters) working on site–could make them a target for terrorists. However, when we examine the history of mismanagement and incompetence of the utility companies running the plants, it seems the greatest credible nuclear threat of them all is yet another accident.

 

 

Notes:

Several JSRC members contributed to this post. 

Frank von Hippel is Professor of Public and International Affairs, emeritus and co-chair International Panel on Fissile Materials. He served as Assistant Director for National Security in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (1994-5). Nuclear consultant Klaus Janberg managed the development and production of the casks at GNS that provide interim storage for spent fuel in Germany and a number of other countries.

 

 

 

 

And justice after all? Prosecutor Review Board Say “Charge TEPCO Execs with criminal negligence”

The Fifth Tokyo Prosecutorial Board announced a decision yesterday that three former executives of the Tokyo Electric Power (東京電力)company, including former Chariman Tsunehisa Katsumata (勝俣恒久元会長)  should be prosecuted for criminal negligence resulting in death and injury for the triple nuclear meltdown in March of 2011.  They also scolded the Tokyo Prosecutor’s Office (TPO)for letting them off the hook. The Prosecutorial Review Board oversees the decisions of the prosecutors to try or not try a case. The TPO now has to consider the decision and decide whether to reopen the investigation or attempt to close the case again.

The accident at Fukushima Nuclear Power plant resulted in over a 100,000 people being displaced and possibly a surge in thyroid cancer in children living in the area. TEPCO workers also drowned to death on site after being sent to check on equipment in the basement despite a looming tidal wave. The manager of the Fukushima plant died of throat cancer this year. TEPCO claims it had no connection to the radiation exposure he received while working at the facilities.

TEPCO executives might possibly be prosecuted for criminal negligence resulting in death and injury over the 3/11 triple nuclear meltdown in Fukushima. But will justice prevail? The odds are as good as there never being another nuclear accident in Japan. Ahem.
TEPCO executives might possibly be prosecuted for criminal negligence resulting in death and injury over the 3/11 triple nuclear meltdown in Fukushima. But will justice prevail? The odds are as good as there never being another nuclear accident in Japan. Ahem. TEPCO did admit after censure from a National Diet Investigatory Body that it had lied about it’s understanding of the risk, but it’s hard to believe that after being documented as lying to the public again and again that it will change its corporate. However, with the bad image they have now maybe a more honest name would win them back public confidence. Better the enemy you know than…..

 

However, if the Tokyo Prosecutorial Board again rules that prosecution of the TEPCO executives is warranted then a team of lawyers will be chosen to play the role of the prosecutors and the accused will be charged.  An independent government investigatory board, National Diet of Japan Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission, concluded in 2012 that the nuclear accident could have been prevented and that TEPCO management was criminally negligent.

Last year TEPCO made 4 billion dollars in profits, much of it due to  the Abe administration’s decision to bear huge amounts of the costs of the Fukushima nuclear disaster clean-up.

The Tokyo Prosecutor’s Office is well aware of how unpopular their decisions to let the TEPCO executives go scot free would be. The news that there would be no prosecution was leaked on the day it was also announced that Japan would hold the 2020 Olympics.

Prior to the 2020 Olympics, Abe also assured that the nuclear clean-up at Fukushima was “under control”. The next day media reports about radioactive water seeping ing into the ground soil and contaminating the ocean made him look very foolish and dishonest. Perhaps that was the inspiration for the Special Secrets Act which his administration rammed into law on a night in December last year, which will cripple press freedom and allow almost all nuclear issues to be labelled “top secret”—criminalising reporting on them.  (We can be sure the Tokyo Prosecutor’s Office will leap to do those cases.)

A special prize to whoever figures out the day the TPO are most likely to bury the news that they are going to ignore the Tokyo Prosecutorial Board and do nothing.  We could be wrong. We’d like to hope we are.

TEPCO makes $4.3 Billion in 2013 despite meltdown. Crime doesn’t pay, criminal negligence does

TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) announced a profit of ¥43.2 billion ($4.3 billion) for the 2013 fiscal year. It is the first time the company moved into the black since an earthquake and tsunami crippled the reactors, leading to a nuclear meltdown in March of 2011.

Despite a drop in electricity sales due to higher than usual winter temperatures, overall sales increased 11 percent from the previous fiscal year due to a rate increase and fuel cost adjustments. Out of ten electric companies, TEPCO was one of the four that posted a profit. The remaining six, which includes power companies in Kansai and Kyushu, recorded a deficit due to relying on fossil fuels to offset the shut down nuclear plants, according to Asahi Shimbun.

Last September, the Abe administration announced that it would give ¥47 billion of taxpayer money to prevent further contaminated water from leaking from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant. That amount is far greater than the profits that TEPCO posted on April 30th, meaning that if the government had not given them any money last year, the company would have announced another year of losses.

The company has not made it clear what the profits will be used for and whether any of the money will be used to support supplement the taxpayer funds allocated to clean up the disaster or compensate those who in Fukushima whose homes fell under the evacuation zone. However, TEPCO’s stockholders, which include LDP politicians such as Masahiro Imamura and LDP Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba have a cause to celebrate. Both hold 6000 and 4813 shares in the company respectively.

As nuclear waste continues to leak into the ocean surrounding Fukushima Prefecture, pro-nuclear advocate Shigeru Ishiba who resembles the Japanese anime hero, Anpanman, seems less like a hero, and more like the arch-villain of the series, Baikinman (Germ Man.) Or maybe in the eyes of the LDP, the general public, 80% of which oppose nuclear power are just like “germs.” In any event, for the large number of ruling party members with stock shares in TEPCO, the profits are good news; the losers are everyone else.

石破マン
Ishiba-man gives an atomic punch to the people of Japan and the clean energy fans in a dramatic fight to save the profitability of TEPCO–in which he owned at least 6,000 shares.

 

“Strong In The Rain” shines among books on Japan’s 3/11

 Strong in the Rain: Surviving Japan’s Earthquake, Tsunami, and Fukushima Nuclear Disaster by Lucy Birmingham and David Mcneill is a book with the literary density of uranium, it penetrates deeply and leaves the reader with a personal and factual understanding of of Japan’s 3/11 mega-disaster that a simple narrative could never do. The title, is of course, taken from the well-known poem by Kenji Miyazawa about perseverance and compassion. Almost every one in Japan knows the poem–that does not detract from its message.

Strong In The Rain is perhaps the best book about the events of 3/11, the aftermath, and the lessons that were learned and should be learned.
Strong In The Rain is perhaps the best book about the events of 3/11, the aftermath, and the lessons that were learned and should be learned.

The most appropriate expression I can use to describe the book is from the Japanese 痛感 (tsukan) literally to “feel pain” the metaphorical meaning being “to keenly know” something. I wasn’t in Japan when the earthquake and the meltdown devastated the nation; I came back 10 days later. This book makes me feel like I was there–like I lived through it. It’s that powerful and evocative. I know both the authors, so maybe I’m not objective. But this is a powerful and almost majestic book. It’s a book I wish I had written…or could write.

The message of “Strong In The Rain” in its tale of foreign and Japanese heroes and villains–and there are both, remains with the reader long after the book is done. Because the book forces us to face the core of our existence: what is it to survive, who do you save and who do you leave, when do we stand up and when do we shut up? What is it be a hero?

It is a book about some amazing Japanese heroes, like the Mayor Sakurai, who fought the yakuza, the complacent press, the Japanese government, and the nuclear industrial complex that is sometimes referred to as “the nuclear village” or by those in the underworld as “the nuclear mafia.” He’s not an action hero–he’s a man of action, a man who changed the coverage of the nuclear meltdown with a simple heartfelt video uploaded onto You Tube in two languages.
He becomes the embodiment in the text of the best qualities of the Japanese spirit and character.
Ms. Birmingham and Mr. McNeill deftly weave together the accounts of the victims and heroes into a Rashomon like account of 3/11 that creates a 4D picture of the tragedy and it does it without the moral relativism or ambiguity of Akutagawa; some problems are painted in shades of grey, but the authors have the courage to put things in black and white where it matters. Sometimes, there is a right and a wrong, a true and false.

The message of “Strong In The Rain” in its tale of foreign and Japanese heroes and villains–and there are both, remains with the reader long after the book is done. Because the book forces us to face the core of our existence: what is it to survive, who do you save and who do you leave, when do we stand up and when do we shut up? What is it be a hero? You don’t have to be a Japanophile to appreciate the human drama in these stories. Anyone who lives in a country where there is nuclear power and natural calamity will find something of interest in this tome.
The message of “Strong In The Rain” in its tale of foreign and Japanese heroes and villains–and there are both, remains with the reader long after the book is done. Because the book forces us to face the core of our existence: what is it to survive, who do you save and who do you leave, when do we stand up and when do we shut up? What is it be a hero? The book provides the questions and some answers. The book is very dense in that important facts are sometime buried in one or two simple sentences. Blink and you miss something important. It’s not an easy read but it is rewarding.

Entire books could be written on the cowardliness of the mainstream Japanese press–SIR does it in a few paragraphs.

Books about disasters come and go, there half-lives are very short. How many books were there on the financial crisis? How many diatribes written about Goldman Sachs? Most of them are no longer on the bookshelves and only a few will remain in the libraries.
“Strong In The Rain” is a book that I think will weather the passage of time very well. Because there are universal truths in the book about heroism, mortality, disaster and Japanese culture that still be relevant long after the physical evidence of Japan’s greatest natural and man-made (nuclear meltdown) disaster are covered up in dirt and concrete.

The Best Articles About Japan 2012 (on our blog) :D

Screen Shot 2012-12-26 at 9.15.01Dear Gentle Reader,

All of us at Japan Subculture Research Center would like to thank you for your  reading the articles posted here this last year, your contributions, and your comments. Here are some of the articles we thought were the most amusing, edifying, or just fun, grouped together in general order.  We had some outstanding outside contributions which made for some excellent reading–and to those contributors thank you as well. Whether you’re interested in Japanese culture or pop-culture, Japan’s nuclear problems, or yakuza and the Japanese underworld—there’s something for everyone.  Enjoy!

Just For Fun

It’s a fuckin sale! 

 

A little English goes a rong way
A little English goes a rong way

 

The most read piece we posted last year. And the one we put the least amount of effort into.

Young Japanese Men and Women Reject Marriage, and Ultimately Each Other : Japan Subculture Research Center

Love: Japan style.

The Tears of a Cat: Hello Kitty’s Guide to Japan, English and Japanese/ ハローティの英語で紹介する : Japan Subculture Research Center

Hello Kitty is an international refugee?

British or Japanese?
British or Japanese?

“You would be cute, IF you had a tiny face.” Japanese facial corset promises cuteness in just 3 minutes! : Japan Subculture Research Center

The most painful article ever.

Cara

Let’s Convenience Store! The Musical: コンビニへ行こう! : Japan Subculture Research Center

A great piece by Mr. Noah-sama, a contributor to the blog. The best of Japanese life.

Coffee & Cigarettes Together At Last : Speak Lark, Drink up : Japan Subculture Research Center

What could be better? Manju and Green Tea? I think not.

Facebook Is Stalking You, Baby. (Notes From The Uncanny Valley, Japan) : Japan Subculture Research Center

How are we feeling today? A little paranoid, perhaps. Maybe not.

The Fallout from 3/11 and Japan’s nuclear industry 

Another photo of the now famous Fukushima ostrich (2011) photo: Naoto Matsumura
Another photo of the now famous Fukushima ostrich (2011) photo: Naoto Matsumura

The Buddha of Fukushima’s Forbidden Zone: A Photo Essay : Japan Subculture Research Center

A tribute to one man who will not go quietly.

Independent Commission on Nuclear Accident: Earthquake, TEPCO negligence, Myth of Safety Caused Meltdown : Japan Subculture Research Center

We hope someone in the Japanese government is paying attention.

The Melting Sun: Japan’s Nuclear Follies : Japan Subculture Research Center

History not only repeats itself, sometimes it predicts the future. A long essay on Japan’s nuclear industry by Professor Jeff Kingston worth reading.

Japan’s historical anti-nuclear protest on July 29th, 2012, a photo essay : Japan Subculture Research Center

The protest movement is heard.  The follow up is here on The Daily Beast.  Nuclear Power Protests In Japan Are Finally Heard. 

Every Friday night thousands gather to call for an end to nuclear power in Japan.
Every Friday night thousands gather to call for an end to nuclear power in Japan.
Misao Redwolf working with the police to keep the protests peaceful.
Misao Redwolf working with the police to keep the protests peaceful.

The Underworld and The Yakuza

The Last Yakuza: A Life In The Japanese Underworld coming in 2014 : Japan Subculture Research Center

I know–total self-promotion. What else do you think pays the costs of running this labor of love? Book sales, some donations, and whatever else I can scrounge up. All that aside, I’m hoping this will be a good read with a moral to the tale. All good stories have something to teach.

The Centers For the Elimination of Organized Crime will be able to launch legal proceedings to shut down yakuza offices under the new laws, if the group is designated "extremely dangerous."
The Centers For the Elimination of Organized Crime will be able to launch legal proceedings to shut down yakuza offices under the new laws, if the group is designated “extremely dangerous.”

The $1,000 Pineapple. Japanese Police Offer Rewards For Hand Grenades : Japan Subculture Research Center

Those Southern Yakuza are pretty ornery!

Yakuza Go On The Record About 3/11 Relief Efforts In July Fanzine (実話時代) : Japan Subculture Research Center

When I wrote about this in 2011, it was a taboo. Not anymore. Sometimes even the bad guys do good things.

Yakuza Comix: An Illustrated Guide To The Front Company フロント企業図解 : Japan Subculture Research Center

Pictures and words

Yakuza Comix #2: The Buck Stops With The Boss : Japan Subculture Research Center

It’s not easy being a yakuza chief these days.

Everything I Ever Needed To Know In Life I Learned From the Yakuza or The Cops That Kick Their Ass in 7 Lessons : Japan Subculture Research Center

Live and learn. Sometimes we die and learn.

On Modern Slavery: Thoughts on Human Trafficking : Japan Subculture Research Center

Published posthumously. Michiel Brandt, rest in peace.

Little Mermaids & Little Fingers: An illustrated yakuza tale : Japan Subculture Research Center

Even Yakuza have kids and sometimes try to be good fathers.

Yakuza blues
Yakuza blues

 

Meet Japan’s Nuclear Mafia: Yakuza, deadbeats, and security risks welcome

TEPCO and the Yakuza
TEPCO and the Yakuza

 

 

Japanese Culture and Cultural Events from 2012

Along the Tamagawa 多摩川 today, the cherry blossoms reached full bloom. (April 15th 2012)
Along the Tamagawa 多摩川 today, the cherry blossoms reached full bloom. (April 15th 2012)

Sakura Time 2012: A photo journey of Tokyo’s awesome cherry blossom viewing : Japan Subculture Research Center

The beauty of April in Japan.

Sakura! 桜!
Sakura! 桜!

Graduation Day: Goodbye to 虐め (いじめ)? : Japan Subculture Research Center

“Ijime” bullying is a part of the culture. Unfortunately.

O-bon: Festival of The Dead or “Please Feed The Hungry Ghosts Day” : Japan Subculture Research Center

Halloween in Japan–in the traditional sense.

Annular Eclipse: After 173 Years A Dark Sun Rise In The Land Of The Rising Sun : Japan Subculture Research Center

Do we have to wait another 173 years? There are some great photos here.

577380_10151146835069392_580184391_13484938_553449978_n-1

Journalism In Japan (and the world) 

Jake, I know that you're planning to log off and I'm afraid I can't let that happen. And how are you feeling, today?
Our lawyers are watching you.

Protecting Sources & Risking Lives: The Ethical Dilemmas of Japanese Journalism : Japan Subculture Research Center

Why we are reluctant to use the names of our sources in Japan–and for good reason.

The Trial Of Minoru Tanaka: The high cost of investigative journalism in Japan & “the nuclear mafia” : Japan Subculture Research Center

Do you want to be an investigative journalist in Japan? You’ll need a good lawyer. Increasingly, litigation is used to shut up voices of dissent.

The Journo Blues: A Song Inspired By Arianna Huffington : Japan Subculture Research Center

The HuffPost and Google News have started to turn the business into a con game–the con being that “exposure” will get you a real job as a journalist. Better think twice on that. If journalism is your calling, you may need to have a second job.

Meet the Rupert Murdoch of Japan: Tsuneo Watanabe

 

 

Musings

Ray Bradbury, Journalism & Mr. Dark. “You can’t act if you don’t know.” : Japan Subculture Research Center

Yes, Ray Bradbury was a novelist but sometimes people can say greater truths in fiction than they can in an essay. I was sad to see him go and this is my small essay on what I find inspiring in his best novel, as a journalist, and as a father.

スクリーンショット 2012-06-07 22.48.18

 

 

 

 

 

How The CIA Helped The Yakuza & The LDP Get Power & Promote Nuclear Power

I just finished re-reading Tim Weiner’s magnum opus, Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA ,which is perhaps the best book ever written on the Central Intelligence Agency, and its general history of dismal failures. On the eve of the LDP’s retaking of power, December 16th 2012, I thought it might be interesting to take a look back at the LDP and how they came into being in the first place. It’s like a story out of a John Le Carre novel, but as is often the case, truth is stranger than fiction–and more interesting.

Operations in Japan turned out to be one of the Agency’s rare success stories. Not only did the CIA put their party of choice in power, according the book 原発 正力 CIA-機密文書で読む昭和裏面史 (What Secret Documents Tell Us About The Hidden Showa-Era History of Ties Between the Nuclear Industry, Matustaro Shoriki–the former president of the Yomiuri Shimbun and founder of Nippon Television) published by Shinchosha, but using the Japanese media, they were able to convince Japan to invest in nuclear energy. Of course, US firms reaped the profits. But that’s another very long story.

Legacy of Ashes is a phenomenal book, especially in how it documents the CIA’s many, many failures–but operations in Japan were something else.

Chapter 12: “We Ran It In A Different Way” is a must for anyone interested in the shadow history of Japan. It details how in post-war Japan, the CIA, using large amounts of cash, reinstated former war criminal Kodama Yoshio and hand-picked one of Japan’s Prime Ministers–in order to supress communist/socialist movements. Kodama had extensive yakuza ties and huge amounts of capital made in the black markets in China. ($175 million estimated). The Tokyo CIA station reported on September 10th, 1953, “(Kodama) is a professional liar, gangster, charlatan, and outright thief….and has no interest in anything but the profits.” It still didn’t keep the CIA from doing business with him up to that time and behind the scenes later. The chapter also notes how the CIA was able to ensure that Nobusuke Kishi became Japan’s prime minister and the chief of its ruling party, in order to ensure that Japan didn’t go red. The president himself seemed to have authorized huge cash payments to Kishi and his other lackeys within the LDP.

Chapter 12 “We Ran It In A Different Way” has a fascinating account of US backing of gangsters and their politicians in post-war Japan

Kishi’s links to the Yamaguchi-gumi and other organized crime groups are well-known. His former private secretary was instrumental in organizing the deal between former Yamaguchi-gumi Goto-gumi boss, Goto Tadamasa, and the FBI; it was a deal in which Goto shared intelligence on organized crime groups within Japan and information on North Korea in exchange for a visa to the the United States. He received a liver transplant at UCLA, a transaction which the FBI did not set up or was involved in. Some of this is discussed in Tokyo Vice.

According to the excellent book, The Japanese Mafia by Peter Hill, and other sources,  Kishi also once put up the bail money for a Yamaguchi-gumi boss accused of a felony.  Goto Tadamasa, the ex-yakuza boss (currently a Buddhist priest doing charitable work) in his memoirs Habkarinagra (Pardon me but…) also discusses his close ties to ex-Prime Minister Kishi. Robert Whiting in the seminal Tokyo Underworld also covers US political connections to organized crime  in Japan in great depth and quite entertainingly. Whiting-san worked for the National Security Agency at one point in his life and what he says has great credibility as far as I’m concerned. (I’m not outing Robert by writing that he once worked for the NSA; it was mentioned in a Japan Times article several years ago and proved to be correct.) David Kaplan’s groundbreaking Yakuza:Japan’s Criminal Underworld was probably the first book to really examine the shadowy ties between the yakuza, the LDP and the US after the occupation. What makes Tim Weiner’s small chapter so impressive are the extensive notes, documents obtained from the CIA, and that he apparently conducted interviews on the CIA side as well. Impressive work.

Kodama, the right-wing industrialist mentioned above,  is notorious for his gangster connections but perhaps what best illustrates the point is that in the early sixties, Kodoma, Taoka Kazuo (田岡 一雄氏), the third generation leader of the Yamaguchi-gumi, and Machii Hisayuki  (町井 久之) head of the once powerful Japanese-Korean mafia, Toseikai(東声会) all served as board members of the Japan Professional Wrestling Association at the same time. They were all good buddies. As noted in Legacy Of Ashes, and in other sources, the Liberal Democratic Party was founded with a mixture of criminal proceeds, yakuza money, and US funds. The days when the US were able to exert control over Japanese politics are long gone but the yakuza have managed to maintain their own ties and connections to politicians across the board. For the Japanese government, they are still a useful entity, at times, and before the APEC summit, calls were sent out to all the major yakuza leaders urging them not to get into any gang wars and to keep an eye on anti-American lefties. After APEC ends, the aftermath of someone lobbing a hand-grenade into the headquarters of the Yamaguchi-gumi Yamaken-gumi headquarters will probably result in a bloody gang war. But for the time being, the yakuza are keeping the peace.

Full Disclosure Memo: In the worst of the Japanese press and blogosphere, I’ve been accused of being an agent of the CIA several times. Or the Mossad. Take your pick. This is untrue. I’m not a Mormon, have been very promiscious, and I am not totally inept, all things which disqualify me off the bat. However, in 2006-2007,  as part of a US State Department sponsored study on human trafficking in Japan,  I worked with a company which has many retired CIA/NSA employees and has been accused of being a front company for the CIA. I don’t know if they are or aren’t a front company and I don’t really care. The study and the Human Trafficking report that came out of it had a positive impact on Japan’s attitude towards dealing with human trafficking isssues and that’s really all that matters.

If you’re interested in the outsourcing of intelligence, pick up a copy of Spies For Hire: The Secret World Of Intelligence Outsourcing *by Tim Shorrock. The CIA contractor card on the cover has a partial picture of a Jewish looking fellow but I don’t think that’s me. Not unless someone issued me a nifty little card and didn’t tell me about it. It’s an incredibly well-written book which is now back in print. (Thanks to Mr. Shorrock for letting us know.)

* I was contacted by a yakuza fan magazine journalist roughly two months ago who asserted that it was me on the cover of Spies For Hire and tried to shake me down for cash, obliquely.  So by writing this post, I’m also saying “f*ck you very much.”  Personally, what’s the most insulting thing about being accused of being a former CIA agent, and no offense to anyone working for the agency intended, but they have such a dismal success rate that it’s kind of like being accused of working for post-Bush FEMA. It wounds my pride. Most people who are in “the intelligence community” would argue that actually the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has the best actionable intelligence of any agency .

Anyway, if you’re a serious Japanologist, Legacy of Ashes is worth having on yourself for that chapter alone. (This is a revision of an article originally posted on November 14th, 2010).