Japan to join nuclear treaty to facilitate U.S. cleanup aid

JIJI, Bloomberg

The Abe administration plans to submit a bill to ratify an international treaty on compensation for cross-border damage from nuclear accidents during the extraordinary Diet session expected to be held this autumn.

The administration released the plan during talks Thursday in Tokyo with the United States on how to strengthen cooperation in decommissioning the damaged reactors at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant and decontamination work in areas tainted with radioactive substances.

The Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage, or CSC, stipulates who should compensate for cross-border damage of nuclear accidents.

Japan joining the treaty is believed essential in order to allow U.S. companies to participate in decommissioning the reactors and decontaminating the surrounding region.

Last October, the government expressed its intention to join the treaty at the request of the United States, which was promoting it as a means to compensate victims of accidents and to protect nuclear plant makers from liability.

Atomic plant operators would take on the liability risk and that would permit U.S. firms to help out in Fukushima, Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman said in an interview with Bloomberg in Tokyo on Thursday. As the power plant has three melted reactors and thousands of tons of radioactive water, the cleanup holds additional risk of accidents.

“Everyone understands that the important thing is to do everything that we can to facilitate the cleanup and decontamination of the Fukushima site,” he said. “In so far as the CSC is a means to support U.S. companies in being active in that role, I think that is basically a critical factor in why it is getting the support you’re now seeing.”

Poneman was in Tokyo for a meeting of the U.S.-Japan Bilateral Commission on Civil Nuclear Cooperation, which was established after the March 2011 catastrophe at the Fukushima No. 1 plant.

U.S. companies have expressed interest in helping Tepco decommission the three stricken reactors.

Bechtel Group Inc., Babcock & Wilcox Co. and Chicago Bridge & Iron Co. were among 25 firms offering services at a February business forum in Tokyo.

“If there is confusion about liability, they’re just not about to take a business risk of getting into new markets,” Poneman said. “To the extent that CSC provides for channeling of liability, focusing that liability on the operator who is the likeliest party to be able to manage and ensure that risk, that’s going to give confidence to U.S. companies.”

To cover potential damage claims, the CSC would tap member countries for a fund of 300 million “special drawing rights,” the equivalent of about $465 million. A nuclear plant operator would have access to that fund after paying out an equivalent amount itself.

The CSC was proposed after the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986 and adopted in 1997. The only countries to ratify the pact have been the U.S., Argentina, Morocco and Romania, which have 316 gigawatts of installed nuclear capacity, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The addition of Japan’s 131 gigawatts would carry the treaty past the 400-gigawatt threshold needed for the pact to come into force. Canada, with 46 gigawatts, introduced legislation this year to implement the treaty, though it has yet to ratify it.

  • Last Resort

    They can’t contain the leak but they think they can clean up the radiation… they better be burying the never ending radiation under Abe’s house