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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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

    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?