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Use your vote to dismantle shields that protect nuclear firms from post-Fukushima liability

Special To The Japan Times

To the Japanese public,

On Dec. 6, the contentious state secrets bill was rammed through the House of Councilors. No parties included this law in their manifesto in the last election, and it’s highly doubtful that its enforcement reflects the will of yourselves, the voters.

No convincing measures have yet been taken to prevent the arbitrary classification and concealment of valuable information from the public. I believe this new law will reinforce the shields that already protect nuclear power companies such as General Electric (GE), Hitachi and Toshiba.

More than three years have passed since the magnitude-9 quake of March 11, 2011, but nuclear firms deeply involved in the design, construction and operation of the reactors are still not being held accountable. There is a long-running TV series sponsored by Hitachi, “Discovery of the World’s Mysteries” (“Hitachi Sekai Fushigi Hakken!”), but the mysteries of nuclear firms themselves are being kept secret.

Six years ago, I left GE Japan. During my six months working in financial planning at the firm in the lead-up to the Lehman Brothers collapse, I came to realize that profit was the highest priority. Skilled managers who would use any means necessary to increase profits were hired from various fields including law, marketing and finance. They have succeeded in fending off any claims of legal responsibility for their actions so far.

Two tenable shields are being created to protect these firms. The first is the state secrets law, which will come into force in December. As The New York Times opined (“Japan’s Dangerous Anachronism,” Dec. 16), “The law is vaguely worded and very broad, and it will allow government to make secret anything that it finds politically inconvenient.”

Recently, the Asahi Shimbun, a brave “mystery hunter” among newspapers, got hold of a series of interviews with the late Masao Yoshida, former manager of the Fukushima No. 1 plant. These interviews startled the public — particularly the revelation that 90 percent of panicked workers fled the Fukushima plant after the 2011 disaster in defiance of Yoshida’s order for them to stay. I’m afraid that this law will allow the government to designate inconvenient truths such as these state secrets in order to prevent any thorough investigation into the responsibilities of nuclear firms.

The second shield is the treaty known as the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage. In this column on Dec. 4 (“Japan should shun treaty that will shield nuclear tech suppliers”), Brian Victoria wrote to the foreign minister warning that “After ratifying the treaty, Japan will be unable to hold GE or any other domestic or foreign vendor financially liable, no matter how defective or dangerous the equipment they installed is.” The Shinzo Abe government plans to ratify it by the end of this year, as part of its strategy to support the restart of atomic plants and the export of nuclear technology abroad.

These two shields will not only hinder the revelation of the cause of nuclear accidents but also make it difficult for nuclear firms to be found liable for future nuclear damage. What powerful magical shields these will be for nuclear firms!

Three parties should be responsible for bearing the cost of the Fukushima accident: 1) taxpayers; 2) Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco); and 3) nuclear firms. A total of ¥100 trillion might not be sufficient to compensate for all the damage done, considering the plight of the evacuees; the radiation exposure, damage to agriculture, land and fisheries; decontamination and continued contaminated water leakage; the decommissioning of the power plant, etc. — yet nuclear firms other than Tepco have not paid even a portion of the massive costs.

Is that fair? Greenpeace launched the “They Profit, You Pay” campaign last year and 113,996 people signed the petition. Greenpeace pleaded, “Don’t let General Electric, Hitachi and Toshiba walk away from the Fukushima disaster.”

It makes sense. Even if each firm was obliged to pay several trillion yen for decades, they would not go bankrupt.

If my way of thinking is correct, these companies are responsible for paying all the profits that they have earned from the nuclear business, just as Tepco is. Right now, taxpayers are bearing almost all the costs through the fees we pay Tepco for electricity. I understand that we have enjoyed the benefits of electricity generated from nuclear plants, but isn’t our share of the burden too high?

Finally, there are three major elections in a few years. One is a unified local election in 2015; the others are the elections for both houses of the Diet in 2016. I would like to conclude by sharing with you one crucial way you can penetrate the multi-layered shields protecting nuclear firms: Simply do not vote for the party trying to reinforce these shields.

NORIKAZU WADA
Kashiba, Nara

Send your comments or submissions (of 500-700 words, addressed to local, regional or national politicians, officials, ministries or other authorities) here: community@japantimes.co.jp

  • James Smith

    >Is that fair? Greenpeace launched the “They Profit, You Pay” campaign last year and 113,996 people signed the petition. Greenpeace pleaded, “Don’t let General Electric, Hitachi and Toshiba walk away from the Fukushima disaster.”

    I’m afraid I don’t follow this. There was nothing wrong with the construction of the reactors. They operate within certain safety parameters and the plant operators chose to ignore these. Isn’t it like demanding money from a car manufacturer after an accident, merely because they support the existence of cars?

    • Firas Kraïem

      So you really can’t see the difference between a car accident and something that will affect an entire region for the foreseeable future and long after that ?

  • Norikazu Wada

    I highly appreciate any comments regarding my article.

    I agree with you to some extent. In three phases from design, construction, to
    operation, it is Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco) who kept operating Fukushima
    reactors in a poor manner. You are right.

    Yet, the design of Fukushima reactors was flawed, some U.S. government officials
    warned as early as in 1972, according to The New York Times.
    (Experts Had Long Criticized Potential Weakness in Design of
    Stricken Reactor: http://goo.gl/HNnhRW)

    In principle, for example, if car components (say, steering wheels) are flawed,
    the supplier is required to repair them and compensate for the damage the flaw
    caused. In the case when Toyota recalled its steering wheels, both Toyota and the
    supplier were responsible. (This comparison might not be precise, though.)

    On the other hand, nuclear reactor suppliers are not held accountable if there are
    flaws — largely because of the regulatory system in Japan. In cases of car
    components and nuclear reactors, both suppliers met safety criteria, but their
    responsibilities are far apart.

    Personally, I felt it is not fair.

    Thank you very much for sharing your perspective.

    • James Smith

      Thanks for your reply. I found it extremely informative.

      If the studies are correct and the reactors had flaws – then I would have to agree with you. Unfortunately I fear that proving a direct link between the reactor flaws and crisis might be an impossible task – making it easy for these companies to avoid direct responsibility.

      >Personally, I felt it is not fair.
      Sadly I don’t think it ever will be. Even in an ideal situation where these companies were held responsibile I don’t think they will happily pay out of there own pocket. The costs will simply filter down the system. In the end, one way or another, we are the ones who end up paying.

      • Norikazu Wada

        Thanks for your opinion.

        You are right. It’s impossible to prove the direct link between the reactor flaws and the crisis in the Shinzo Abe government. Only if every key information is open to the public, we can unravel the mystery of the accident, but now, even the testimony of late Masao Yoshida, who was in charge of the accident, has been kept secret.

        What is worse, in the Act on Compensation for Nuclear Damage, 1961, the responsibility of nuclear firms is nearly nullified. It is highly likely that taxpayers bear the huge costs.

        Now that a myth surrounding the safety of a nuclear power plant is exploded, Japan might be asked whether it keeps this system or not.

  • Enkidu

    Norikazu,

    1. Are you aware that Japanese law already protects nuclear suppliers from liability, and has for the past 50 years? You and Brian Victoria may want to read the Act on Compensation for Nuclear Damage (Act No. 147 of 1961). It employees the same principle of “legal channeling” that drives the allocation of liability in the Convention on Supplementary Compenation for Nuclear Damage.

    2. The workers at Fukushima did not defy Masao Yoshida’s orders. You should go back and reread his original, Japanese-language quotes from the Asahi report on the issue. Yoshida told the employees to evacuate to a safer area in or “near” the plant. Once he realized that some workers interpreted that instruction as permission to evacuate to the nearby Daini plant, he ordered them to come back to Daiichi and they did. Perhaps Yoshida could have been clearer in his initial instructions, but no orders were defied.

  • Enkidu

    Norikazu,

    Thank you for the reply. Yes, I am aware of the lawsuit, but if the court finds that particular part of the law unconstitutional, it would also find that part of any domestic law to enforce the treaty unconstitutional, so I am still struggling to find the relevance of the treaty to your position.

    As for “defying orders”, I recommended that you read Yoshida’s quotes in Japanese. Instead, you’ve provided the problematic statements of the Asahi newspaper in English, which do not reflect the disclosed statements of Yoshida himself. This was poor journalism by the Asahi and may explain why most people who can read the Japanese original shrugged at this news.

    If you want to stick on this point, perhaps you could go back to the original Japanese and find the “orders” that were “defied”?

  • Starviking

    The same newspaper said that the safety inspectors “fled” the plant, despite the fact that they were required to leave and try and activate the emergency response centre near the plant.

    This is the level of the Asahi’s reporting: biassed and twisted.

    I also have no doubt that if the inspectors had stayed, the Asahi would have condemned them for getting in the way instead of activating the emergency response centre as they were expected to do.

    • Norikazu Wada

      Thanks for your comment.

      Asahi is biased as Yomiuri and NHK is, and no media might be in the neutral position.

      > they were required to leave and try and activate the emergency response centre near the plant.

      That’s their job. If nuclear plant workers can’t handle the emergency, we can’t restart the nuclear plants.

      Time will tell whether Asahi twisted the truth or not after the Yoshida testimony is disclosed to the public. I also don’t know the truth.

  • Enkidu

    Hi Norikazu,

    Thanks again for your response.

    1. With respect to the treaty, are you saying that if the courts find the provision in the Act on Compensation for Nuclear Damage that protects suppliers to be unconstitutional, that this would not be determinative with respect to the identical provision from the CSC? That doesn’t sound right to me. If it is unconstitutional to bar suits against suppliers, then it shouldn’t matter which law says that or if more than one law says that, it (i.e., barring law suits against suppliers) is still unconstitutional.

    Also, I still don’t follow your position on being against the CSC because it exempts suppliers from liability. Japanese law already provides for this and has for nearly 50 years. Maybe you could point out what will change as a result of
    ratifying the CSC and why you are against that?

    2. Thank you for going back and finding Yoshida’s original quotes. I think you can probably see now that the employees did not defy his orders (that we know of, anyway). Anyone who reviews the original quotes, as you have done, would see that, at the worst, it was Yoshida’s
    inadequate orders to the employees that caused the problem as I initially pointed out.

    And yes, I know what 命令違反 means and followed the original Asahi Japanese language articles on this closely, which is why I’ve raised the issue here. If the Asahi, NY Times or BBC want to say that the employees defied orders, then they sure as hell ought to provide evidence that an order was issued and the the employees defied it. To date, they have done no such thing.

    The Asahi is generally my Japanese-language newspaper of choice, but this was embarrassingly bad reporting.

  • Enkidu

    Hi Norikazu,

    Sorry to be away. So I take it your main argument is that the treaty may reinforce existing law. I think that may be a fair point given the ambiguity of Japanese law, but a point that certainly should have been mentioned in your original editorial because it means that the treaty is only significant if the plaintiffs win their case that the existing law is unconstitutional (highly unlikely, but as you say, not out of the realm of possibility) and the Supreme Court decides that the treaty trumps the constitution (which I think is also highly unlikely). I think most legal scholars believe that the Sunagawa case is actually supportive of constitutional supremacy given its implication that treaties can be overturned if unconstitutional, but all would acknowledge that this has not been fully settled.

    Thank you for your understanding on the “evacuation” issue.

    • Norikazu Wada

      Hi Enkidu,

      Thanks for your continued suggestions. As a writer, it’s been a great opportunity to know what opinions some readers might have; it’s possible that dozens of them have the same one when a comment is offered online.

      In my article, I was trying to present a readable one. I refrained from packing voluminous issues ― this and that ― into a luggage bag of space (500-700 words). Regarding the CSC treaty, I considered mentioning the Act in 1961, but I stopped short of it.

      In my opinion, simply the fact that the Act has served over decades does not justify its ratification after the Fukushima accident: the reference to the Act is not indispensable. Moreover, the CSC treaty is not just an international version of the domestic Act. The treaty will pave the way for compensation issues among nations, which facilitates “the strategy to support the restart of atomic plants and the export of nuclear technology abroad (excerpt from my article)”: legal channeling is a big issue, but not everything.

      Regarding the priority between a constitution and a treaty, I hope your perspective (constitution over treaty) is materialized in Japan, but the Supreme Court has not been so adamant as “Enkidu” particularly when the U.S. ― Gilgamesh ― was at stake.

      If I had stuffed these points into my article, my luggage would have cried ;)

      As far as your circumstances permit, your article based on scientific evidence might shed light on others.

      Norikazu