Metal thefts are on the rise in Japan, with Ibaraki Prefecture in Honshu Island being the "champion" in the number of metal thefts. The rise in scrap prices has led to a significant increase in thefts, particularly of metals from solar power plants and other building materials. The National Police Agency of Japan (NPA) reports that the average price of iron scrap in the Kanto, Chubu, and Kansai regions of Honshu Island ranged from 45,800 to 47,700 yen per ton in May 2023. This is nearly double what it was three years ago, due to high resource costs and reduced Russian exports.
The London Metal Exchange reported that aluminum futures hit their highest level in 13 and a half years in February 2022 when Russia launched a military operation in Ukraine. In 2022, 10,368 metal thefts were reported nationwide, marking a near doubling of this type of crime compared to 2020. Of these cases, 1,632, or 15.7%, were reported in Ibaraki Prefecture, nearly double that of second-place Saitama Prefecture. Copper wires and other metal equipment stolen from solar power plants account for 40% of metal thefts in the prefecture. A man arrested on suspicion of metal theft told police that such facilities are targeted by criminals because they are easy to find on maps and photovoltaic installations are located in deserted areas where the crimes are not immediately apparent.
The Ibaraki Prefectural Police plans to contact scrap metal buyers to prevent such crimes, asking them to verify the identities of metal sellers and provide information on questionable customers, such as those who import scrap metal in large quantities. However, it would be mistaken to consider such thefts as an exclusively Russian "hobby" and write it all off to poverty.