Photo/IllutrationIn a photograph submitted to the Fukushima city government, bamboo cylinders are inserted into the ground to make the area look like a bamboo forest. (Provided by the Fukushima city government)

FUKUSHIMA--A nuclear clean-up firm is suspected of "creating" a bamboo forest and receiving about 10 million yen (about $88,000) illegally because 10 times more money is paid for decontaminating bamboo areas than for regular woodland.

After installing short bamboo cylinders into the ground, Zerutech Tohoku submitted fabricated photographic "evidence" to the Fukushima city government, officials said May 11.

The subcontractor had been hired to decontaminate forests following the March 2011 accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The city government is considering filing a criminal complaint against the company though the firm, based in Nihonmatsu, Fukushima Prefecture, was closed in March this year.

Firms are paid more to clean bamboo forests because they have to cut the trees, while in other woodland they are only required to collect fallen leaves.

A joint venture of three companies decontaminated about 185,000 square meters in the Matsukawa district from September 2014 to March 2016 using subcontractors, and received about 620 million yen from the city government.

The three were Hikari Construction Co., Komata Construction Co. and Nokokensetsu Co., all based in Fukushima.

In the case of Fukushima city, the fee for decontamination work is about 500 yen per square meter of land in a regular forest. In a forest where bamboo plants with diameters exceeding a certain length are concentrated, however, about 4,600 yen is added.

A whistle-blower brought the allegation to the notice of the authorities in November 2016, and the city government investigated a 3,500-square-meter section. It found that most of about 2,500 square meters of land that it had recognized as a bamboo forest was not a bamboo forest at all.

“Thin bamboo trees were in the area though their diameters were not meeting the city government’s standard," said a former manager of Zerutech Tohoku. "I ordered my subordinates to take photos to make the area look like a bamboo forest. I’m feeling responsibility as a former manager.”

An official of the joint venture said, “We will return the money (Zerutech Tohoku) overbilled (the city government).”