NARAHA, Japan —
Gangsters have long been involved in industrial waste handling, and police say they suspect gangsters are systematically targeting reconstruction projects, swindling money from low-interest lending schemes for disaster-hit residents and illegally mobilizing construction and clean-up workers.
Meanwhile, workers complain of docked pay, unpaid hazard allowances — which should be 10,000 yen, or $110, a day — and of inadequate safety equipment and training for handling the hazardous waste they are clearing from towns, shores and forests after meltdowns of three nuclear plant reactor cores at Fukushima Dai-Ichi released radiation into the surrounding air, soil and ocean.
“We are only part of a widespread problem,” said a 56-year-old cleanup worker, who asked to be identified only by his last name, Nakamura, out of fear of retaliation. “Everyone, from bureaucrats to construction giants to tattooed gangsters, is trying to prey on decontamination projects. And the government is looking the other way.”
During a recent visit to Naraha, a deserted town of 8,000 that is now a weedy no-man’s land within the 12-mile restricted zone around the crippled nuclear plant, workers wearing regular work clothes and surgical masks were scraping away topsoil, chopping tree branches and washing down roofs.
Naraha’s mayor, Yukiei Matsumoto, said that early on, he and other local officials were worried over improper handling of the $16 billion cleanup, but refrained from raising the issue, until public allegations of dozens of instances of mishandling of radioactive waste prompted an investigation by the Environment Ministry, which is handling decontamination of the 11 worst-affected towns and villages.