As a nonsignatory to three international treaties on compensation for nuclear accidents, Japan is exposed to the risk of expensive lawsuits.
By the terms of the three treaties, damages cases stemming from nuclear accidents must be handled in the courts of the country where the accidents occurred. Two of the three treaties also provide a rough guideline of what the maximum compensation can be.
Because Japan has not signed any of them, Tokyo Electric Power Co. and the nation itself are potentially liable to pay an unlimited amount in damages from atmospheric and oceanic radiation leaking from the Fukushima No. 1 plant if, for example, fishermen in Russia and China file lawsuits in district courts of their countries.
Nobody outside Japan has yet filed lawsuits in their countries demanding compensation from Tepco or Japan, according to the Foreign Ministry.
“We have been considering joining treaties since even before the (March 11) quake, as China and South Korea have nuclear plants. But Japan will have to change domestic laws in order to join the treaties and it takes time and energy,” said Yasuhiro Itakura of the division on compensation for damages of nuclear accidents at the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.
Signatories to the three treaties — the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage, the Paris Convention and the Vienna Convention — are mainly countries in Europe and North and South America.
Asian countries with nuclear power plants, including China and South Korea, have not signed on.
Signing the treaties would be meaningless unless countries neighboring Japan do so as well, an official of the International Nuclear Energy Cooperation Division at the Foreign Ministry said.
The Convention of Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage, signed by 14 countries and ratified by four, including the U.S., sets a ceiling on compensation at roughly 300 million SDRs, or special drawing rights — a form of international money created by the International Monetary Fund. One SDR is worth about $1.60.
Under the Paris Convention, the maximum amount is about 15 million SDRs.