The Japan Atomic Energy Commission has started full discussions by experts on whether to limit the liability of nuclear plant operators to pay compensation in the event of an accident.
Currently, nuclear operators in Japan bear unlimited liability for damages, but some experts say a ceiling of their responsibility is needed.
The discussions are expected to be heated, as limiting liability would raise the problem of how to compensate people and businesses affected by a nuclear crisis.
For the March 2011 catastrophe at the Fukushima No. 1 plant, Tokyo Electric Power Co. is facing full liability under the nuclear compensation law.
Because Tepco can’t afford paying off all compensation demands while also funding decontamination work, the government has set aside ¥9 trillion in assistance.
The money is provided to Tepco through Nuclear Damage Compensation and Decommissioning Facilitation Corp., a public-private organization. Tepco is to repay the money over time.
The electric power industry has been pushing for a cap on nuclear plant operators’ liability for compensation.
“If the sky’s the limit for compensation, we cannot project an outlook for our nuclear energy business,” a senior official at a major power utility said.
In line with the government’s policy of continuing to promote nuclear energy, an expert panel of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission started debate last year on problems with the current compensation regime.
Some panel members argued for a limited liability system.
“Shouldering risks that go beyond the limit of the private sector will impede fund procurement by electric power companies,” one member said.
On the other hand, another member said, “Limited liability is not an option, considering the current situation in Fukushima.”
There are also concerns that a narrower scope of responsibility for power companies could be detrimental to their commitment to safety.
With the panel sharply divided, a government official said a conclusion is not expected soon.
The expert panel plans to produce a report next year, and the government will subsequently start working on any necessary amendments to the nuclear compensation law.
Even if the nuclear compensation system is revised, past accidents would not be covered by the changes.
Among countries that impose such liability limits, the United States sets the maximum liability at $12.6 billion and Britain has a ceiling of £140 million ($199.7 million), according to the Japan Atomic Energy Commission. Under the U.S. system, if the scale of nuclear damage exceeds the limit, the president is supposed to propose a supplementary compensation program to Congress.