October 22, 2014
Japan to ratify international convention on nuclear accident compensation pact
THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
Japan intends to ratify an international convention that sets a global uniform standard for compensating victims of nuclear accidents.
The move is in line with fears of an increasing risk of a nuclear accident abroad with developing nations accelerating their efforts to construct nuclear power plants.
The convention limits responsibility for nuclear accidents to the operator of the nuclear plant, meaning companies that manufacture nuclear plant equipment would not be liable. That provision would make it easier for Japanese manufacturers to export nuclear technology.
However, critics charge that Japan has not yet adequately assessed the reasons for the catastrophic triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in 2011 and that it is wrong to join a convention that would promote nuclear technology exports.
The Abe administration will submit a bill to the extraordinary Diet session now in progress to ratify the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage (CSC). Currently, five nations, including the United States, have ratified the treaty, which was adopted in 1997.
However, the treaty has still not entered into force because one provision has not been met--that the total installed nuclear capacity of the ratifying nations be at least 400,000 megawatts.
If Japan ratified the convention, that provision would be cleared. The United States has been lobbying Japan to join the pact. The treaty would take effect 90 days after the Diet ratified the convention.
Convention signatory nations would share in the compensation burden when a nuclear accident occurred.
Along with the convention, the Abe Cabinet will also submit relevant legislation to allow for implementation of the convention.
Japan had not joined the convention because it placed excessive faith in the "safety myth" surrounding nuclear power plants.
The Fukushima nuclear disaster put paid to that way of thinking. Moves by developing nations in Asia and elsewhere to construct nuclear power plants were another reason for joining the convention.
The CSC requires nations to provide a minimum yen equivalent of 47 billion ($438 million) in compensation. If the total amount of compensation required exceeds that amount, signatory nations would be required to share part of the additional burden.
A Foreign Ministry official said, "The convention will encourage developing nations to pass legislation related to nuclear power plants."
The additional shared amount to be contributed by each nation would be calculated based on the capacity of nuclear power generation. If Japan joined the convention, it would have to come up with about 4 billion yen to deal with a potential accident abroad. The government plans to ask electric power companies to set aside funds annually to shore up the compensation sharing package.
Like domestic laws in nations that have installed nuclear power plants, the CSC limits responsibility for nuclear accidents to the operator of the plants, mainly electric power or fuel companies.
For that reason, companies that manufacture nuclear plant equipment or construct nuclear plants would not be held responsible for accidents that occurred in signatory nations.
A Japanese government source said U.S. officials lobbied Japan to join the CSC because it was becoming difficult for companies in the United States to export nuclear plant equipment to developing nations until the convention took effect.
An executive with a major Japanese manufacturer said, "With it looking close to impossible to construct a new plant in Japan, we would appreciate a convention that encouraged the export of nuclear plants."
However, in August, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations issued a statement opposing ratification of the CSC on the grounds it would create a moral hazard for manufacturers, who would likely not feel obliged to deal seriously with measures to prevent nuclear accidents.
Mie Asaoka, a vice president with the JFBA, said: "The convention encourages developing nations to pass legislation so nuclear plants can be exported to them. Can Japan claim to have fulfilled its international responsibility for having caused the accident at Fukushima?"
(This article was written by Takashi Watanabe and Senior Staff Writer Noriyoshi Ohtsuki.)