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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

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