Fukushima Fallout − Updates from Japan

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#773
21/11/2013
Article

Dodging responsibility for nuclear disasters

Greenpeace reports that the US is offering to provide assistance with ongoing work at Fukushima, in particular the multiple problems with contaminated water, but only if Japan first signs the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage (CSC).[1]

According to Dr Rianne Teule, a radiation expert with Greenpeace International: "This is an international treaty that supposedly provides an international regime on nuclear liability − the who-should-pay-for-a-nuclear-accident issue. But the real aim of the CSC, along with other international conventions on nuclear liability, is to protect the nuclear industry. It caps the total compensation available after a nuclear accident at a level much lower than the actual costs. The companies that supply nuclear reactors and other material are exempt, they don't have to pay anything if there is an accident. The operators of nuclear plants are the only ones accountable for paying damages but the CSC protects them too by not requiring them to have enough money or financial security to cover the costs of an accident."[1]

Japan signing the CSC would have two important benefits for the US: it would reduce the chances that General Electric can be sued for damages for the Fukushima accident; and it could secure future business opportunities in Japan for US nuclear suppliers. Dr Teule writes: "The US is not offering help to Japan out of the kindness of its heart, but to give a lifeline to its dying nuclear business. The US has been pushing ratification of the CSC in other countries where they hope to expand their nuclear business, such as India, Canada, Korea."[1]

In September, a freedom of information request lodged by Greenpeace turned up documents from 1960 revealing that nuclear companies pressured the Japan Atomic Energy Commission to make sure they were exempted from all responsibility for a nuclear accident, except in the case of a deliberate act. Greenpeace states: "GE, Hitachi and Toshiba, the big companies that all built reactors at Fukushima based on a flawed GE reactor design, have not paid a cent to help TEPCO and have done little to nothing to help the victims of the disaster. So, Japan's taxpayers have to step in to pay the billions upon billions of yen needed to deal with the industry's gross negligence."[2]

[1] Greenpeace, 5 Nov 2013, www.greenpeace.org/international/en/news/Blogs/nuclear-reaction/cynical-...
[2] Justin McKeating, 10 Sept 2013, 'Proof that the nuclear industry has been dodging its responsibilities for over 50 years', www.greenpeace.org/international/en/news/Blogs/nuclear-reaction/proof-th...

 

Draft legislation targets whistleblowers, media

Japan's prime minister Shinzo Abe is planning a new State Secrets Act that could suppress publication and dissemination of information about the Fukushima nuclear disaster and other contentious issues. The Act is being referred to by campaigners as the Fuk-hush-ima Law. A draft of the new law was approved by Cabinet in late October and is likely to be passed in the current Parliamentary session, which ends on December 6, since Abe's Liberal Democratic Party enjoys a majority in both houses of parliament. The law would impose harsh penalties on those who leak secrets, or even try to obtain them. Journalists found to be breaking the law could be sent to prison for five years while government employees releasing secret information could be imprisoned for a decade.[1,2]

Media and legal experts say the law is both broad and vague, giving the Japanese government enormous scope to determine what would actually qualify as a state secret. Furthermore the law makes no provision for any independent review process. The proposed law names four categories of 'special secrets', which would be covered by protection − defense, diplomacy, counter-terrorism and counter-espionage.[1]

Under the new legislation a ministry may classify information for a five-year term with a possibility of prolongation up to 30 years. Extension beyond 30 years would require Cabinet approval. Cabinet added a provision to the draft which gives "utmost considerations" to citizens' right to know and freedom of the press, but critics have dismissed those as window dressing.[3]

Sophia University political science professor Koichi Nakano said: "This may very well be Abe's true intention − cover-up of mistaken state actions regarding the Fukushima disaster and/or the necessity of nuclear power."[4]

In early 2013, Japan fell from 22nd to 53rd place in the Reporters Without Borders' ranking of media freedom. This was attributed to a single factor − the lack of access to information related to the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Many reporters have met with restricted access, lack of transparency and even lawsuits while TEPCO has consistently barred access to documents and to people.[5]

[1] Oliver Tickell, 30 Oct 2013, 'State Secrets Act to supress Fukushima information', www.theecologist.org/News/news_round_up/2139614/state_secrets_act_to_sup...
[2] Kiyoshi Takenaka, 24 Oct 2013, 'Factbox: Japan prepares for new law to protect national secrets', www.reuters.com/article/2013/10/25/us-japan-secrecy-bill-factbox-idUSBRE...
[3] 25 Oct 2013, 'Fuk-'hush'-ima: Japan's new state secrets law gags whistleblowers, raises press freedom fears', http://rt.com/news/japan-state-secrets-law-712/
[4] Linda Sieg and Kiyoshi Takenaka, 24 Oct 2013, 'Japan secrecy act stirs fears about press freedom, right to know', www.reuters.com/article/2013/10/25/us-japan-secrecy-idUSBRE99N1EC20131025
[5] Reporters Without Borders 2013 World Press Freedom Index, http://en.rsf.org/press-freedom-index-2013,1054.html