Panel begins debate on reducing operators’ liability for nuclear accidents

JIJI

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.

  • Liars N. Fools

    Limit the liability but only conditioned on substantially upgrading the safety standards of the reactors.

    • André Balsa

      Basically you are suggesting that the Japanese government should give more taxpayers’ money to the nuclear industry (for the “upgrades”) and then also make the taxpayers pay for all future nuclear accidents. Quite obviously that is exactly what the nuclear industry wants.
      There is no “upgrade” that will make a nuclear power plant safe when faced with a major earthquake/tsunami, as the ongoing and never-ending Fukushima disaster has clearly demonstrated.
      The only rational solution for Japan is to keep all the nuclear reactors in Japan shutdown and decommission them as fast as possible, and to invest in wind, solar, geothermal, grid modernization and efficiency measures, which are all zero-carbon emission technologies, and all cost less than nuclear.

  • vlady47

    Ask the public if they want to be financially responsible for a nuclear accident and it’s clean up.
    Already this industry has placed the American people and future generations on the hook for the storage of it’s highly radioactive waste….that must be isolated for thousands of years.
    The continued use of nuclear energy is insane.

  • Naomi Dagen Bloom

    As an anti-nuclear American, am aware that we cover up too many things people need to know. Some continue to hope that nuclear energy will answer the problem of climate change. Yet if we were asked about limits to compensation from radiation damage, thought we’d loudly resist what’s proposed here for Japan. But it seems we do NOT know “U.S. sets a maximum liability and it is $12.6 billion. That there is limit, no matter how high, is disturbing.

  • Naomi Dagen Bloom

    As an anti-nuclear American, am aware that we cover up too many things people need to know. Some continue to hope that nuclear energy will answer the problem of climate change. Yet if we were asked about limits to compensation from radiation damage, thought we’d loudly resist what’s proposed here for Japan. But it seems we do NOT know “U.S. sets a maximum liability and it is $12.6 billion. That there is limit, no matter how high, is disturbing.

  • goofyfootgaijin

    So basically the industry itself understands that disaster risk is significant enough that their business is not worthwhile without government backing. Private insurance companies aren’t even willing to take on nuclear operators as customers. And so why again is nuclear power a good idea that the public at large should underwrite?? What other industry needs to operate like this? Japan has vast renewable energy resources (solar, wind, tidal, geothermal, hydro) that could easily make up for lost nuclear capacity, but it is clear as day that the main goal here is propping up a massive, highly-subsidized industry rather than finding sustainable energy solutions that would require no disaster insurance from the public at large.

    • Sam Gilman

      Japan has vast renewable energy resources (solar, wind, tidal, geothermal, hydro) that could easily make up for lost nuclear capacity,

      Two points here: first, Japan does NOT have vast renewable energy resources compared to how much energy we use (I see people make the claim that we have all these resources, but they haven’t looked at the numbers). We have one of the highest power densities of demand in the world (ie how much power we need per square metre of land we have), and then we have to take into account that we also have one of the highest rates of forestation in the world: 66% of the land (and another 12% is crop agriculture, another 3.5% roads, another 3.5% waterways…). Geothermal resources actually aren’t that big (currently available: 1% of current electricity demand, potentially available 15%), hydro has limited extra potential (we might be able to increase by 50%), wind speeds are relatively low everywhere except Hokkaido, and we run north to south, so our solar energy would come on at the same time, and the weather is frequently similar across the whole of Honshu, meaning the mantra that “it’s always sunny somewhere” doesn’t apply, and integration costs are high if you have lots of solar like this. We can certainly get a certain amount of electricity out of renewables (and absolutely we have to try), but the outlook is limited.

      Second, our overriding goal is to replace fossil fuel capacity, and not only in electricity generation now, but in other uses, such as industry and transport, which we do by electrifying these processes. So we need a lot more electricity than we produce now. Opposing nuclear and renewables is doing the fossil fuel industry’s PR work for them.

      If the DPJ were still in power, I don’t think they would be doing anything differently. The choices we have for decarbonisation are really limited.

      • Bradley Fried

        Germany’s doing it, but Japan has decided to not even try because government is in the pocket of the nuclear village.

      • Sam Gilman

        Germany’s doing what, exactly? It’s almost certainly going to miss its 2020 Kyoto targets. It looks like its CO2 emissions rose last year. The German government is now warning “against a hasty exit from coal-fired power generation, concerned that such a move could pile more pressure on producers still wrestling with the planned shutdown of nuclear plants by 2022.” (Reuters). Investment in solar has been declining for the past four years. The leading renewable energy source has been biomass, which doesn’t have a very good low carbon profile. Drops in coal use in 2014 were almost entirely down to warmer winters, not energy policy.

        It would be great if the Energiewende was actually a model for rapid decarbonisation, because it would make life so much easier politically for those of us who genuinely want decarbonisation as the top priority. Just think how many coal plants it could close if it had kept the other half of its nuclear plants online. Instead, it’s going to close down the remaining of these low carbon plants and keep burning coal instead.

      • André Balsa

        Sam Gilman is a member of a little mob of paid pro-nuclear trolls that move from website to website spilling their filthy propaganda and misinformation, and abusing any person who disagrees with them. You just have to check who upvotes each and every one of their stupid comments to see who are the members of this mob, since they consistently upvote each other.

      • Sam Gilman

        I do apologise to the more sensitive readers of these comments. André Balsa is a strong supporter of the conspiracy theorist Helen Caldicott. He adopts her standard tactic of accusing anyone and everyone who doesn’t worship at her feet of somehow being paid to do so by dark forces. The UN, apparently, is part of this.

        André, if you want people to upvote your comments (if that’s the validation you need), you should try being nicer to people and having something concrete to say.

        Stalking people just to abuse them (or as you did recently to another person, threaten to contact their employer for the crime of disagreeing with you on the Internet) isn’t going to help.

      • Sam Gilman

        I do apologise to the more sensitive readers of these comments. André Balsa is a strong supporter of the conspiracy theorist Helen Caldicott. He adopts her standard tactic of accusing anyone and everyone who doesn’t worship at her feet of somehow being paid to do so by dark forces. The UN, apparently, is part of this.

        André, if you want people to upvote your comments (if that’s the validation you need), you should try being nicer to people and having something concrete to say.

        Stalking people just to abuse them (or as you did recently to another person, threaten to contact their employer for the crime of disagreeing with you on the Internet) isn’t going to help.

      • Sam Gilman

        I do apologise to the more sensitive readers of these comments. André Balsa is a strong supporter of the conspiracy theorist Helen Caldicott. He adopts her standard tactic of accusing anyone and everyone who doesn’t worship at her feet of somehow being paid to do so by dark forces. The UN, apparently, is part of this.

        André, if you want people to upvote your comments (if that’s the validation you need), you should try being nicer to people and having something concrete to say.

        Stalking people just to abuse them (or as you did recently to another person, threaten to contact their employer for the crime of disagreeing with you on the Internet) isn’t going to help.

  • Bradley Fried

    “’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.” So, get out of the damn nuclear business then. Don’t change the law to create even more moral hazard that will cause more serious accidents in the future.

  • Sam Gilman

    I wrote a long reply but it’s stuck in moderation. I’ll repost if it doesn’t come through.

    • goofyfootgaijin

      I got it via email. Lots to think about in your response. I do think we are getting away from the article’s focus of whether or not the public should shoulder the risks that nuclear power plants.

      • Sam Gilman

        If your argument is that the public should not shoulder some of the risk on the grounds that we don’t need nuclear anyway, then it’s not getting away from the focus.

  • André Balsa

    Despite the opposition of up to 85% of the Japanese population to the restart of nuclear reactors, the Abe government has proceeded to allow two nuclear reactors to be restarted at the end of 2015 (Sendai units 1 and 2), and four more are scheduled to be restarted in the first quarter of 2016. That is while the Fukushima disaster is still ongoing, with three uncontained melted nuclear cores in contact with groundwater.
    The Abe government is bending to the pressure of Japanese banks, who have lent trillions of yens to utilities such as TEPCO. Both banks and utilities are part of the Japanese conglomerates known as keiretsu (or zaibatsu as they were formerly known), which are very much an integral part of the Japanese economic model and play a determining role in Japanese national policies and political decision making. In other words, Mr. Abe is unsurprisingly bending to the pressure of those groups that funded his entire political career and ultimately put him in power at the head of Japan.

    That is the sole logic for the restart of nuclear reactors in Japan during the Abe government: the logic of money. Exactly the same logic that wants taxpayers to be liable for nuclear accidents.

    A different government however, could follow the common-sense and rather obvious logic that the Fukushima disaster was basically the result of an earthquake, and that Japan is – and will forever be – located in the most seismically active region in the world, essentially the worst place on the planet to build and operate a fleet of nuclear reactors. That logic would see that all nuclear reactors in Japan are shutdown and decommissioned, with the existing electricity generation capacity being replaced by wind, solar, geothermal, grid modernization and efficiency measures.

    • Sam Gilman

      – This was the result of the tsunami, not the earthquake. This is really rather important from an engineering point of view. There is no logical connection between the status of Fukushima and the status of the other plants. There’s an emotional one, for sure, but we are dealing with the physical world here, which despite the poets, doesn’t actually run on emotions.
      – Public opinion is of course generally against the long term use of nuclear power, but against the short term use, such as in restarts, you seem to have invented that figure. Opposition is rather less strong. Here are figures from the stridently anti-nuclear Asahi. As you can see, in late November, it was 35-41 for and against the restart of a reactor in Ehime.

      http://www.asahi.com/sp/articles/ASHCY5H2THCYPFIB00H.html

      In September, a poll showed that only 16% wanted an immediate cessation to nuclear power. 58% would like to stop using it in the near future (chikai shōrai). 22% don’t want a nuclear exit. 30% were for the restarts in Kagoshima, 49% against, and a lot of undecideds. It’s not as clear cut as you tell people.

      http://www.asahi.com/sp/articles/ASH8S5G03H8SUZPS007.html

      More importantly in a democracy than opinion polls, politicians standing on prominent anti-nuclear platforms keep losing in elections. The current government keeps being elected with an openly pro-nuclear policy. There is nothing illegitimate about the government pursuing its policy on this. Yes, there is pressure from business because of the high costs of running on imported fossil fuels, but that’s hardly sinister.

      – I have given figures elsewhere on this page why trying to rely on renewables alone will take time and lead to a shortfall in energy supply meaning decarbonisation will hardly happen and continuing large scale reliance on fossil fuels will inevitably occur. I have asked you elsewhere repeatedly if you accept the WHO’s verdict that climate change is already killing 150,000 a year excluding conflicts, rising to 250,000 over the next decade or so. You don’t seem too keen to discuss the urgency of climate change.

      • Michael Mann

        You need to be accurate at root cause analysis to prevent future occurrences.

      • André Balsa

        Michael Mann and Sam Gilman are both repeatedly exposed paid trolls working for the nuclear industry to spread propaganda and misinformation. No wonder they are both posting comments here. The nuclear industry depends on the Japanese people paying for the cleanup of the ongoing Fukushima disaster.

      • Michael Mann

        You are so outclassed you think I’m a professional, even after being shown conclusively that I’m not ? I am just a blue collar worker with 35+ years experience, I’m not paid to post, but Andre thinks I should be! Thank you! If you would rather have information instead of accusations just click on my name at the top left of this post and read all of my previous posts!

      • Sam Gilman

        Bizarrely, the Japan Times deleted my reply to him on this issue – where I pointed out how the wild accusations he makes (which are of course silly and groundless – I have no connection to any energy industry in any way whatsoever) are part and parcel of the way Helen Caldicott and her fans, of which he is undoubtedly one, handle any challenge to their bombast.

        Deleting both posts would make some kind of sense, but just mine? JT, that’s extremely dodgy.

      • Michael Mann

        JT also makes it impossible for me to link directly to their site to reply to a post there, I need to reply on the Disqus screen , I thought it was a computer glitch and that is still a possibility, but it only happens with Japan Times…..

      • Mike Carey

        Andre, you are really putting a lot of time into these comments of yours. I’m sure the fossil fuel folks appreciate what you are doing to ensure their continued dominance in the energy market.

        Have *you* considered being paid for your time? The rest of us are volunteers trying to counter the obvious disinformation campaigns on the web, because climate change is real and time is short.
        Take care.

      • André Balsa

        The latest numbers for renewables for 2015 are now available, and they are very encouraging.
        * Italy in 2015 generated 8% of its electricity from solar (there are no nuclear plants in operation in Italy).
        * Wind generated 42% of electricity demand in Denmark last year (by law, there are no nuclear plants in Denmark).
        * In Germany, where a democratic decision was adopted to phase out nuclear power, the situation for renewables has been steadily improving:
        http://www.renewablesinternational.net/files/smthumbnaildata/addressdetaillogo/5/1/1/9/3/3/GermanElectricity_20032014.png
        * China installed 15GW of solar PV power capacity in 2015, and plans to reach 150GW of installed solar PV capacity by 2020, the largest of any country in the world (China already has the largest wind power generating capacity of any country in the world). In 2015, in a single year, China invested over $110 billion in renewables, twice as much as its total investment over the last 50 years in nuclear power generation capacity.
        Meanwhile, the numbers for nuclear are appallingly bad:
        * France has not connected a single new nuclear reactor to its grid over the last 25 years. Areva, the French builder of nuclear reactors, is technically bankrupt and the dissolution of the company is expected within the next 5 years. The Finnish government has demanded that the French prime minister clarify the situation of the still unfinished EPR reactor that Areva was contracted to build in Finland, which is already 6 years behind schedule and $7 billion overbudget.

      • Sam Gilman

        That China story you tell appears to be the recycling of corporate propaganda from the solar power industry. Why would you be doing that, André?

        How many nuclear reactors did China bring online last year, and why did you choose to keep that secret from people, André? (For everyone else, China brought 7.4 GW online last year. Taking capacity factors into account, this is around 3 times more in terms of output than the increase in solar panels. The nuclear target is 58GW for 2020 – which is more than double the output implied by the target you mention for solar.

        Why did you keep it secret that hydro actually forms the biggest part of Chinese renewables and Chinese low carbon energy in general? Why would someone need to keep it a secret that the biggest renewable is not an intermittent like solar, but a dispatchable source? Why hide the contribution of hydro?

        Why, in fact do you only go on in detail about solar, but neglect to mention that China missed its target on solar?

        Why do you pass over wind power in China so briefly when the increase in effective wind capacity, like the increase in effective nuclear capacity, dwarfs that of solar?

        Is there any reason why you’re playing down all other energies but solar?

  • Sam Gilman

    I’ll say at the outset that I am a strong fan of wind power. It has a higher capacity factor than solar, and it’s been shown to be rather more rapidly scalable, and it would be so nice if it got more attention and more support. But Japan doesn’t have particularly good wind resources (certainly not onshore) and cannot play as big a part as it can in some other countries. Sooooo…let’s break down these wind claims that André makes to show people his priorities and sleights of hand.

    First off, the most important thing to note from the mainstream science point of view is that André wants to wind to replace nuclear rather than coal or gas. He measures the adequacy of wind in terms of how much nuclear it can stop, not the whole grid or how much gas or coal burning could be avoided. That is, the priority is not to remove fossil fuels but another low carbon source. That’s crazy from a mainstream science point of view, both from the point of climate change and immediate issues of air pollution. I have asked André several times here and elsewhere to accept the authority of the WHO’s estimate that climate change is already causing annual deaths of 150,000 a year excluding conflicts. He has yet to do so. Make of that what you will.

    Secondly, André’s post conceals what the ultimate source of his potential figures actually says. It certainly doesn’t project that wind can replace the amount of electricity contributed by nuclear. The source is from the Japan Wind Power Association, an organisation I have already cited on this page.

    http://jwpa.jp/pdf/roadmap_v3_2.pdf

    Those figures he cites are for the entire potential if every single inch were built out everywhere on Japanese territory and seas with wind above a certain average speed, regardless of how far flung and regardless of the grid. The document is really clear about this.

    When you take into account the JPWA’s actual practical potential achievable capacity by 2050, the actual predicted amount drops from Andre’s huge 752 GW to…50GW. The document is very clear that this is their projection to 2050. Why is that not discoverable in anything André posted above?

    50GW would provide 15% of electricity needs (in another post I wrote 20%; I mistakenly cited cited the figure for overall capacity instead of output). That’s half of what nuclear provided before 2011. Now, if André wants to replace nuclear entirely with wind, where’s that other 15% going to come from? Well, he might say solar, but then that would certainly leave coal and gas and oil largely untouched from their pre-2011 levels.

    What could possibly be André’s motive for that Why all this interest in shutting nuclear down and doing nothing about fossil fuels?

    Third, look at his prices. They’re not for Japan, but the US (and even then they’re not representative). 2014 estimates by Bloomberg out Japanese onshore wind at 17.8 cents per KWH – that’s more than five times higher than the price he claims. Offshore wind would be higher. Why would André want to influence us with prices that are far lower than we would actually pay here? It’s almost as if he doesn’t actually mean for us to build wind, but distract us from tackling climate change with nuclear. It’s as if the most important thing is shutting down a low carbon source of power. Why would he want that?

    To repeat, I support wind and would like to see here a good focus on offshore development in particular (I’m worried about the environmental impact of onshore wind given that it would necessitate construction and roads being built in currently undeveloped forested mountain areas). We need all the low carbon energy sources we can put out to tackle climate change.

    But Andre’s approach doesn’t seem to be about solving that. Why would that be?