Japan will introduce legislation this year to ratify a controversial treaty backed by General Electric Co. and other atomic-plant manufacturers seeking protection from damage claims caused by nuclear accidents.
The treaty, known as the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage or CSC, will encourage experienced U.S. companies to assist in the cleanup and decommissioning at the Fukushima atomic accident site, Japan’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement today.
Protection from accident claims is needed because of the dangers and risks that remain at Fukushima, said U.S. Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman in an interview in Tokyo yesterday. The plant has three melted reactors and thousands of tons of radioactive water.
“The important thing is to do everything that we can to facilitate the cleanup and decontamination of the Fukushima site,” Poneman said. The CSC is a means to support U.S. companies in that role, he said.
Poneman was in Tokyo to attend a meeting of the U.S.-Japan Bilateral Commission on Civil Nuclear Cooperation, which was established after the March 2011 accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co. (9501)’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant.
The CSC puts all liability for accidents at a nuclear power plant on the operator of the facility. To cover potential damage claims, CSC member countries would each contribute the equivalent of about $465 million. An atomic plant operator would have access to that fund after paying out an equivalent amount itself.
Critics of nuclear power, environmental group Greenpeace among them, say the CSC acts as a subsidy for atomic power plant makers, such as GE, Toshiba Corp.’s Westinghouse unit and Areva SA of France, by shielding them from accident claims.
The Fukushima disaster three years ago shows the treaty is flawed, say the critics. The most costly civilian nuclear accident on record — estimates of $108 billion and counting — broke the back of the operator Tokyo Electric. It was saved from bankruptcy by a government bailout. In other words, taxpayers.
“Capping the amount of liability that either the nuclear operator or the state would be responsible for fundamentally limits the amount that victims can be compensated for,” Kendra Ulrich, an energy campaigner with Greenpeace International in Amsterdam, said.
Stephen Burns, head of legal affairs at the OECD’s Nuclear Energy Agency, disagreed, saying countries are free under the pact to make operators liable for damages beyond the $930 million covered by the treaty, he said.
Japan’s ratification would activate the treaty in the country, the U.S. and three other nations that have joined, and could encourage more to participate.
The “Japanese government recognizes the importance of participating in the regime for compensation for nuclear damage, and intends to conclude the CSC,” according to the Foreign Ministry statement. It indicated that would take place this year, without setting a firm date.
Beside the Fukushima issue, the treaty is gaining momentum as Japan and the U.S. seek to export more nuclear technology due to a drop in domestic demand. Japan has retreated from a nuclear expansion following the Fukushima accident, while the shale natural gas boom has snuffed out what was labeled a nuclear renaissance in the U.S.
“The prospects of new nuclear in the US and Japan are not very good,” David Robinson, senior research fellow at Oxford Institute for Energy Studies in Oxford, England, said in an e-mail. “The logical step for the nuclear business is to look where governments are keen to support nuclear.”
China, which the World Nuclear Association says has more nuclear reactors planned or under construction than any other country, has also been in talks with the U.S. about joining the treaty, Poneman said.
China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection and Energy Administration did not respond to faxed messages seeking comment.
India, which plans $175 billion in atomic power plants, has signed the CSC though never ratified it. Under current laws, Nuclear Power Corp. of India Ltd. can seek damages from suppliers for defective equipment or materials in an accident.
GE is uncomfortable with India’s rules on liability, GE India Chief Executive Officer Banmali Agrawala said in an interview with the Business Standard in October last year.
Getting Japan to ratify the CSC may convince other countries to follow, said Akihiro Sawa, a fellow at the policy institute affiliated with the Keidanren business group. Keidanren, Japan’s dominant lobbyist, counts Japanese power utilities and nuclear plant suppliers among its members.
“Japan will be regarded as a model for other countries,” said Sawa, a former director at the environmental policy division of Japan’s trade ministry.
The U.S., Argentina, Morocco and Romania are the only countries to have ratified the CSC. Combined they have 316 gigawatts of installed nuclear capacity, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The addition of Japan’s 131 gigawatts would carry the treaty past the 400-gigawatt threshold needed for it to come into force. Canada, with 46 gigawatts, introduced legislation this year to implement the treaty, though it has yet to ratify.
GE’s support for the treaty has included warnings to Canada’s government that its business in that country “is inhibited — and could be jeopardized — by Canada’s inadequate liability regime,” according to documents obtained by Greenpeace through a public records act request.
Gary Sheffer, GE’s vice president for communications and public affairs in the U.S., didn’t respond to an e-mail seeking comment.
Areva said in a statement it supports broad adherence to international nuclear liability treaties. Toshiba is “carefully watching” Japan’s steps toward ratification, said company spokeswoman Midori Hara, who declined further comment.
The U.S. is pushing the CSC because its nuclear industry needs new markets, said Tom Vanden Borre, a researcher in nuclear liability law at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium.
Countries with plans to build nuclear power plants are important because the U.S. hasn’t had a new atomic plant begin service since 1996, he said.
“It’s merely to protect the American industry and nothing more.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Jacob Adelman in Tokyo at [email protected]
Some 39 months after the multiple explosions at Fukushima, thyroid cancer rates among nearby children have skyrocketed to more than forty times (40x) normal.
More than 48 percent of some 375,000 young people—nearly 200,000 kids—tested by the Fukushima Medical University near the smoldering reactors now suffer from pre-cancerous thyroid abnormalities, primarily nodules and cysts. The rate is accelerating.
More than 120 childhood cancers have been indicated where just three would be expected, says Joseph Mangano, executive director of the Radiation and Public Health Project.
The nuclear industry and its apologists continue to deny this public health tragedy. Some have actually asserted that “not one person” has been affected by Fukushima’s massive radiation releases, which for some isotopes exceed Hiroshima by a factor of nearly 30.
But the deadly epidemic at Fukushima is consistent with impacts suffered among children near the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island and the 1986 explosion at Chernobyl, as well as findings at other commercial reactors.
The likelihood that atomic power could cause such epidemics has been confirmed by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, which says that “an increase in the risk of childhood thyroid cancer” would accompany a reactor disaster.
In evaluating the prospects of new reactor construction in Canada, the Commission says the rate “would rise by 0.3 percent at a distance of 12 kilometers” from the accident. But that assumes the distribution of protective potassium iodide pills and a successful emergency evacuation, neither of which happened at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl or Fukushima.
The numbers have been analyzed by Mangano. He has studied the impacts of reactor-created radiation on human health since the 1980s, beginning his work with the legendary radiologist Dr. Ernest Sternglass and statistician Jay Gould.
Speaking on www.prn.fm’s Green Power & Wellness Show, Mangano also confirms that the general health among downwind human populations improves when atomic reactors are shut down, and goes into decline when they open or re-open.
Nearby children are not the only casualties at Fukushima. Plant operator Masao Yoshida has died at age 58 of esophogeal cancer. Masao heroically refused to abandon Fukushima at the worst of the crisis, probably saving millions of lives. Workers at the site who are employed by independent contractors—many dominated by organized crime—are often not being monitored for radiation exposure at all. Public anger is rising over government plans to force families—many with small children—back into the heavily contaminated region around the plant.
Following its 1979 accident, Three Mile Island’s owners denied the reactor had melted. But a robotic camera later confirmed otherwise.
The state of Pennsylvania mysteriously killed its tumor registry, then said there was “no evidence” that anyone had been killed.
But a wide range of independent studies confirm heightened infant death rates and excessive cancers among the general population. Excessive death, mutation and disease rates among local animals were confirmed by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and local journalists.
In the 1980s federal Judge Sylvia Rambo blocked a class action suit by some 2,400 central Pennsylvania downwinders, claiming not enough radiation had escaped to harm anyone. But after 35 years, no one knows how much radiation escaped or where it went. Three Mile Island’s owners have quietly paid millions to downwind victims in exchange for gag orders.
At Chernobyl, a compendium of more than 5,000 studies has yielded an estimated death toll of more than 1,000,000 people.
The radiation effects on youngsters in downwind Belarus and Ukraine have been horrific. According to Mangano, some 80 percent of the “Children of Chernobyl” born downwind since the accident have been harmed by a wide range of impacts ranging from birth defects and thyroid cancer to long-term heart, respiratory and mental illnesses. The findings mean that just one in five young downwinders can be termed healthy.
Physicians for Social Responsibility and the German chapter of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War have warned of parallel problems near Fukushima.
The United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) has recently issued reports downplaying the disaster’s human impacts. UNSCEAR is interlocked with the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency, whose mandate is to promote atomic power. The IAEA has a long-term controlling gag order on UN findings about reactor health impacts. For decades UNSCEAR and the World Health Organization have run protective cover for the nuclear industry’s widespread health impacts. Fukushima has proven no exception.
In response, Physicians for Social Responsibility and the German International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War have issued a ten-point rebuttal, warning the public of the UN’s compromised credibility. The disaster is “ongoing” say the groups, and must be monitored for decades. “Things could have turned for the worse” if winds had been blowing toward Tokyo rather than out to sea (and towards America).
There is on-going risk from irradiated produce, and among site workers whose doses and health impacts are not being monitored. Current dose estimates among workers as well as downwinders are unreliable, and special notice must be taken of radiation’s severe impacts on the human embryo.
UNSCEAR’s studies on background radiation are also “misleading,” say the groups, and there must be further study of genetic radiation effects as well as “non-cancer diseases.” The UN assertion that “no discernible radiation-related health effects are expected among exposed members” is “cynical,” say the groups. They add that things were made worse by the official refusal to distribute potassium iodide, which might have protected the public from thyroid impacts from massive releases of radioactive I-131.
Overall, the horrific news from Fukushima can only get worse. Radiation from three lost cores is still being carried into the Pacific. Management of spent fuel rods in pools suspended in the air and scattered around the site remains fraught with danger.
The pro-nuclear Shinzo Abe regime wants to reopen Japan’s remaining 48 reactors. It has pushed hard for families who fled the disaster to re-occupy irradiated homes and villages.
But Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and the plague of death and disease now surfacing near Fukushima make it all too clear that the human cost of such decisions continues to escalate—with our children suffering first and worst.