WTO panel rules on Korea’s ban on Japanese seafood

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September 28th. Banners and calls for government action at Seoul’s Gwanghwamun Square: “We oppose imports of radioactive, contaminated Japanese seafood.”
 
A dozen civic groups are protesting the lifting of an import ban on Japanese seafood.
“It’s been more than six years since the Fukushima nuclear disaster, but radiation-tainted water is still being released into the sea. If the government lifts the restrictions, contaminated Japanese seafood will enter Korea.”
 
Following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, the Korean government slapped a temporary import ban on Japanese food. It then extended the ban to all fishery products from eight Japanese prefectures around Fukushima in September 2013, citing safety concerns.
 
In mid-2015, Tokyo lodged a complaint with the World Trade Organization against the restrictions.
After several bilateral meetings, a dispute resolution panel was set up in Feburary 2016, and this weekthe WTO panel sent its first dispute resolution report.
 
“Yes, both Seoul and Tokyo received the panel’s interim decision on Tuesday. For now, we cannot reveal the outcome as the concerning party’s duty. The result will be made public next spring, after it’s translated into three languages. What we can say now is that we will take measures if we think the panel’s ruling poses a risk to public health.”
 
In the complaint, Japan argued the Korean government lacked an explanation and scientific proof to back its restriction measures, adding Seoul had failed respond to Tokyo’s requests to answer its questions.
 
“In 2014 and 2015, Korea dispatched experts to conduct inspections in Fukushima. But, according to what I’ve found through information disclosure requests, under pressure from the Japanese government, the team didn’t conduct inspections in deep water, oceanfloor deposits as originally planned. Such inspections are critical to finding levels of contamination.”
 
The inspection team was disbanded in 2015 without a clear reason, and there was no final report on the inspection.
Experts believe it’s highly likely Korea lost the first panel ruling.
Once the outcome is made public next year, Korea has 60 days to hold discussions with Japan, and 15 months of appeal process, if it decides to do so.
 
“The Korean government needs to see how Japan is controlling its radiation tainted water, and conduct a thorough inspection in Fukushima, including of deep seawater, to show the import ban is fair. Secondly, the Korean government needs to take active measures to release whatever the inspection team found in 2014 and 2015 to restore people’s trust.”
 
Importing food is a matter of a nation’s sovereign rights.
A number of other countries, including China, Russia, Singapore and the U.S. all have some sort of import restriction measures, with China banning imports from ten prefectures in Japan, and Russia banning not just fresh seafood, but processed seafood.
Thus, the WTO ruling could have a broader impact and give Japan the basis to claim that food produced in the Fukushima region is 99 percent safe.
 
“There’s no safety level. Food safety standards differ according to the scientific research methods and the machines you use. No matter how small, radioactive material like Cesium, which stays in a natural state for a long time, accumulates in fish. If consumed by people, there’s a possibility it can cause cancer.”
 
Following the import ban in 2011, Japanese seafood imports to Korea have slumped to less than half the level they were at before the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Many Koreans are worried about the possible resumption of seafood imports from Japan.
 
“Then, people won’t be conscious or cautious of food from Fukushima, and I’m worried my child will eat Japanese seafood. The government should protect the public’s health.”
 
“With concerns about radioactive contamination in seafood imports from Japan, and a lack of transparency from the government, the Korean public is calling on the administration to take the necessary measures that guarantee the safety of the nation’s food supply.
Kim Hyesung, Arirang News. ”
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Japan attempting to force contaminated food products onto the market

A World Trade Organization panel has apparently ruled in Japan’s favor in a dispute over South Korean restrictions on imports of Japanese seafood imposed after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, according to a source familiar with the matter.
Both sides had been informed of the panel’s decision as of Tuesday. Tokyo declined to reveal the outcome but said it was “consistent with Japan’s position.” A final report is expected to be made public by next spring.
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WTO panel said to back Japan on Fukushima fish ban

Tokyo has called South Korean restrictions on seafood imports unfair
GENEVA/SEOUL — A World Trade Organization panel has apparently ruled in Japan’s favor in a dispute over South Korean restrictions on imports of Japanese seafood imposed after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, according to a source familiar with the matter.
Both sides had been informed of the panel’s decision as of Tuesday. Tokyo declined to reveal the outcome but said it was “consistent with Japan’s position.” A final report is expected to be made public by next spring.
The WTO dispute settlement process lets parties appeal panel decisions. Ryu Young-jin, South Korea’s minister of food and drug safety, told lawmakers in the National Assembly on Tuesday that the country would appeal any ruling against it by the panel “in the interest of public health.”
For Tokyo, a victory would mark progress on rolling back restrictions on imports of fish and other seafood from waters off eastern Japan. The South Korean ban, which Japan claims is unfair under WTO rules, was imposed in 2013. Japan tried and failed to talk the matter out with South Korea in 2015, prompting Tokyo to request the establishment of the dispute resolution panel.
What happens next remains unclear. South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported that the import ban would stay in place until at least 2019.
A number of other countries have imposed similar restrictions on Japanese seafood for fear of radioactive contamination, so the ruling could have a broader impact.

Seoul considers appeal against WTO ruling on Fukushima seafood ban

SEOUL, Oct. 18 (Yonhap) — South Korea is considering appealing the World Trade Organization (WTO) panel findings that its import restrictions on Japanese seafood after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster were unfair, the country’s trade ministry said Wednesday.
Japan lodged a complaint at the WTO in 2015 to challenge South Korea’s import bans and additional testing requirements on fish caught from eight prefectures near Fukushima since 2013.
On Tuesday, WTO’s dispute settlement panel in Geneva ruled in favor of Japan and notified the two sides of the result.
“We will appeal in accordance with the WTO procedures if (its decision) is considered unfair and affects the government’s ability to safeguard the health of our people,” the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy said in a release. “Public health concerns are our top priority.”
Under WTO rules, South Korea has 60 days to appeal to an appellate body, which could delay imports of Fukushima-related seafood for another two years during the deliberation period.
Details of the final result will be available to WTO member nations in January and will be open to the public afterwards, the ministry said.

Rulings show Fukushima relief falls short of reality of victims

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Rulings show Fukushima relief falls short of reality of victims
A recent district court ruling on a damages lawsuit over the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident must have reminded many people of the serious consequences of the disaster.
The meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant shattered the happy and peaceful lives of local residents.
A huge number of people born and raised in the surrounding communities can no longer hope to continue their lives there, including working and developing their personalities through interactions with others.
In the lawsuit filed by around 3,800 plaintiffs, the Fukushima District Court on Oct. 10 held the government and the electric utility responsible for the nuclear accident and ordered them to pay compensation to about 2,900 evacuees.
It was another court ruling that represents a “legal defeat” for the government over the disaster, following a decision made in March by the Maebashi District Court in Gunma Prefecture.
For many years, the government has been promoting nuclear power generation as a national policy. Policymakers involved should revisit the lessons from the severe accident, which should be blamed on their blind faith in the “safety myth” of nuclear power.
They should also start making fresh efforts to enhance the safety of nuclear plants and provide effective relief to victims.
One key issue in the around 30 similar lawsuits that have been filed across the nation is whether it was possible to foresee the massive tsunami that triggered the meltdowns.
So far, three district courts have handed down rulings, all of which acknowledged that the tsunami was foreseeable. Their decisions were partly based on a related view announced in 2002 by a government agency.
Last month, however, the Chiba District Court denied the government’s legal responsibility for the accident, saying the disaster might not have been prevented even if presumed safety measures had been taken.
The ruling was based on a lenient judgment that showed insufficient sensitivity to the consequences of the accident.
In contrast, the Fukushima court delivered a well-reasoned, convincing ruling that describes in detail possible measures that could have been taken. It was based on a wide range of evidence, including courtroom testimonies by experts and facts and data concerning the situation when the accident unfolded.
Nuclear safety regulators and nuclear plant operators have the grave responsibility to constantly update their scientific knowledge and adopt safety measures of the highest possible level.
This is a vital imperative whose importance has become even clearer since the Fukushima accident.
Another key issue in the Fukushima disaster-related lawsuits is the way relief should be provided to victims.
All three rulings ordered compensation payments beyond government-set standards to a considerable number of plaintiffs.
The Chiba District Court ruling amply recognized the mental damages from the loss of hometowns caused by the accident. The Fukushima court granted compensation to a wide range of people, including residents in areas in Fukushima Prefecture that were not ordered to evacuate by the government, as well as in neighboring Ibaraki Prefecture, for their suffering from anxiety about radiation exposure.
The court rulings differed in their views about certain issues and damages granted.
But they all acknowledged that the government’s guidelines for compensation and TEPCO’s payments based on the guidelines do not adequately reflect the reality of the victims’ suffering.
The government’s Dispute Reconciliation Committee for Nuclear Damage Compensation, which crafted the guidelines, should scrutinize the rulings to determine if the guidelines have any shortcomings or other problems.
The nuclear accident cannot be undone. Obviously, the government and TEPCO are obliged to provide quick and appropriate relief to victims from the viewpoint of people suffering the consequences of the disaster.

Kobe Steel Scandal Grows to Include Subsidiaries, 500 Firms Hit by Cheating Scandal

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Kobe Steel’s chief executive, Hiroya Kawasaki, at a news conference in Tokyo on Friday. “We are trying to understand how this could possibly happen at so many subsidiaries, including overseas,” he said.

Kobe Steel Scandal Grows to Include Subsidiaries

 
TOKYO — A scandal about falsified quality data at Kobe Steel expanded on Friday, as the Japanese steel maker said nine subsidiaries, including several outside Japan, had either failed to carry out required product checks or lied about the results.
Including products sold by the subsidiaries, Kobe Steel said it now estimated that it had shipped substandard or potentially substandard materials to 500 customers, up from an initial estimate of 200.
“We are trying to understand how this could possibly happen at so many subsidiaries, including overseas,” Kobe Steel’s chief executive, Hiroya Kawasaki, said at a news conference.
Mr. Kawasaki repeated a promise to complete in two weeks an investigation into potential safety hazards related to the data falsification, and to deliver in a month the results of a broader examination of the company’s failings, which now look systemic and global.
Kobe Steel supplies metal components to industries where safety is vital, including car, train and aircraft producers, and makers of electronics and other equipment. The company says it is working with its customers to determine if any of the affected material, mostly aluminum and copper, poses a safety risk.
The subsidiaries named on Friday were three in China, one each in Thailand and Malaysia and four based in Japan. They make products like copper piping and aluminum and steel wire.
Employees at the companies are supposed to test the products to ensure that they meet design standards specified in customer contracts. Kobe Steel said that in some cases the tests had not been carried out, and that in other cases employees had recorded fake results to make it seem as though the products met customers’ standards when they did not.
Executives said the data manipulation had been deliberate.
Mr. Kawasaki said that Kobe Steel’s international investigation was continuing, and that more cases of data falsification could emerge. The revelations so far have reverberated through supply chains and cast a shadow over Japan’s reputation for precision manufacturing.
Ford Motor said late Thursday that the only use of Kobe Steel aluminum that it had established in its worldwide operations involved a hood for Ford Mondeo sedans produced in China. It said it did not know if the aluminum was substandard, but said it was not being used structurally, so safety was not at issue.
The scandal also touched Japan’s embattled nuclear industry. Tokyo Electric Power, owner of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which experienced meltdowns after a tsunami struck it in 2011, said Friday that it had sourced improperly certified copper piping from Kobe Steel.
Tokyo Electric said the piping, which it bought for use at its Fukushima Daini nuclear power station, near Fukushima Daiichi, had not been checked to ensure it met size requirements. But it said the piping had never been installed, and was in storage, and did not pose a safety threat.
Kobe Steel said on Sunday that employees had altered inspection certificates on aluminum and copper products from September 2016 to this past August, constituting about 4 percent of the company’s output of those items during the period, but that it was examining other possible episodes of data falsification going back 10 years.
On Wednesday, Kobe Steel added two more products to the list of affected materials: powdered steel, which is used to create molded steel products like gears, and “target material,” a specialty mix of metals used to produce DVDs, television screens and other electronics equipment.
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A contrite Mr Hiroya Kawasaki, CEO of Kobe Steel, has said the company plans to pay customers’ costs for any affected products

500 firms hit by cheating scandal: Kobe Steel CEO

 
Crisis ripples through global supply chains, dealing body blow to Japan’s reputation
TOKYO • The cheating crisis engulfing Kobe Steel just got bigger.
Chief executive Hiroya Kawasaki revealed yesterday that about 500 companies had received its falsely certified products, more than double its earlier count, confirming widespread wrongdoing at the steelmaker that has sent a chill throughout global supply chains.
The scale of the misconduct at Japan’s third-largest steelmaker pummelled its shares as investors, worried about the financial impact and legal fallout, wiped about US$1.8 billion (S$2.4 billion) off its market value this week.
As the company revealed tampering of more products, the crisis has rippled through supply chains across the world in a body blow to Japan’s reputation as a high-quality manufacturing destination.
A contrite Mr Kawasaki told a briefing the firm plans to pay customers’ costs for any affected products. “There has been no specific requests, but we are prepared to shoulder such costs after consultations,” he said, adding that products with tampered documentation account for about 4 per cent of the sales in the affected businesses.
Kobe Steel initially said 200 companies were affected when it admitted last weekend that it had falsified data about the quality of aluminium and copper products used in cars, aircraft, space rockets and defence equipment.
Asked if he plans to step down, Mr Kawasaki said: “My biggest task right now is to help our customers make safety checks and to craft prevention measures.”
​Boeing has some of the falsely certified products, a source with knowledge of the matter said, while stressing that the world’s biggest maker of passenger jets does not consider the issue a safety problem.
More than 30 non-Japanese customers had been affected by the firm’s data fabrication, the Nikkei newspaper reported yesterday. A Kobe Steel spokesman said the companies received its products but would not confirm they had any of the falsely certified components.
Nuclear power plant parts are the latest to join the list of affected equipment as Fukushima nuclear operator Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) yesterday said it had taken delivery of pipes from Kobe Steel that were not checked properly.
The pipes were delivered to its Fukushima Daini station, located near the destroyed Fukushima Daiichi plant, but have not been used, Tepco said, adding that it was checking all its facilities.
Faulty parts have also been found in Japan’s famous bullet trains that run at speeds as high as 300kmh and a space rocket that was launched in the country earlier this week. One bullet train operator has already said it will seek compensation from Kobe Steel.
The government has ordered Kobe Steel to address safety concerns within about two weeks and report on how the misconduct occurred in a month. No safety issues have yet been identified in the unfolding imbroglio.
The company’s shares fell nearly 9 per cent yesterday and have fallen more than 40 per cent since the scandal broke.
Kobe Steel, founded in 1905, is a pillar of Japan’s manufacturing sector. Such are its establishment bona fides that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, scion of a political dynasty, worked at the company decades ago, before entering politics.
But those credentials have now been shattered, a point amplified by Mr Kawasaki who earlier said the credibility of the firm “has plunged to zero”.
 

Kobe Steel discloses 9 more cases of faked inspection data

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Kobe Steel President and CEO Hiroya Kawasaki speaks during a press conference in Tokyo, Friday.
TOKYO – The scandal over product inspections data faked by Japanese materials and machinery giant Kobe Steel expanded Friday to include products shipped to more than 500 customers.
Kobe Steel’s president, Hiroya Kawasaki, told reporters the company had uncovered nine more types of products whose inspections had been faked or manipulated, including copper alloy pipes and steel wire rods used in vehicle tires and engines.
The problems disclosed by Japan’s third-largest steel maker are just the latest in a slow of product quality, accounting and corruption scandals that have dented Japan’s image of superior manufacturing prowess.
The latest problems were discovered with shipments of more than than 11,000 tons of steel, copper, and aluminum products made by Kobe Steel and its affiliates in Japan, China, Malaysia and Thailand, the company said.
Kawasaki at times appeared close to tears while explaining how it was that the company had chosen not to disclose some of the cases that had been discovered much earlier and discussed at past board meetings.
“I apologize again for the tremendous trouble that we have caused to our customers and consumers,” he said. “We are conducting a thorough analysis of the problem. The analysis will be key,” he said.
Kawasaki said he did not expect any product recalls due to the misconduct.
The exact extent of the problem remains unclear since Kobe Steel has not identified the customers affected. But the company is a major supplier to many manufacturers, including automakers, aircraft manufacturers, semiconductor factories and nuclear power plants.
Other materials it said were affected by bogus inspections or faked data include steel powder, aluminum flat-rolled products and castings, copper strips and tubes and forgings.
Tokyo Electric Power Co said Friday it had bought a backup duct for a heat exchanger for one of four reactors at one of two nuclear power reactors in northeastern Japan’s Fukushima that narrowly survived the 2011 tsunami despite some damage.
TEPCO said in a statement that a Kobe Steel subsidiary, Shinko Metal Products Co., informed it the product came with inappropriate measurement data.
There is no concern over safety because the duct was bought as a backup and was not used.
TEPCO said it has requested further investigations by Kobe Steel of products shipped to the utility and its subsidiaries. TEPCO is also investigating.

Japan’s quiet payouts to cities near nuclear plants fuels speculation of political ploy

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Shimane and Tottori prefectures hold a joint drill in Hoki, Tottori Prefecture, in October 2015 for residents living near nuclear power plants in the prefectures. The government has expanded a state subsidy for cities hosting plants to include municipalities within a 30 km radius.
In an apparent bid to win support for the restart of nuclear power plants, the state has quietly expanded the scope of subsidies for host cities to include local governments within 30 kilometers of the facilities, a charge the government denied Friday.
The change came into force in April with no announcement to the media from the industry ministry, fueling speculation that it was meant to assuage the concerns of municipalities surrounding host cities about plants taken offline in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis.
A government official, however, denied this speculation.
“We reviewed the system after learning that nuclear power plants also influence surrounding areas,” the official, with the industry ministry’s Agency for Natural Resources and Energy said, adding that the change had been reported on the ministry’s website and that local governments were briefed.
Under the shift, more than 150 local governments are entitled to the subsidy, for which ¥4.5 billion ($40 million) was allocated in the fiscal 2017 budget, the same amount as in fiscal 2016. The ministry has requested a ¥5 billion budget for fiscal 2018.
According to the agency, the program began in fiscal 2016, mainly to promote renewable energy and other measures to revitalize the economies of municipalities hosting nuclear power plants when the facilities are scrapped due to old age.
Utilities face a constant cycle of reactors going online or offline through decommissioning or the suspension of operations. For example, at Chugoku Electric Power Co.’s nuclear plant in Shimane Prefecture, the No. 1 unit is set to be decommissioned as the operator seeks to restart its No. 2 unit.
The change from fiscal 2017 allowed the subsidies to be paid out to towns and villages within 30 km of a nuclear complex, in addition to the host prefectural governments.
To gain approval for restarts, utilities effectively need to obtain consent from prefectural and municipal governments hosting the nuclear complexes, although such efforts are not required by law.
Since the 2011 nuclear disaster, which caused damage to a wide area, surrounding municipalities have stepped up calls for a stronger voice in deciding whether to resume nuclear reactor operations.
But the state and utilities are reluctant to expand the scope of municipalities from which they need to obtain consent, saying that doing so would make restarts exceedingly difficult.

Rokkasho NPP Violated Safety Rules

Nuclear fuel reprocessing operator violated safety rules: regulator
TOKYO (Kyodo) — Japanese nuclear regulators concluded Wednesday that Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. violated legally binding safety rules by failing to conduct necessary checks for over a decade at its uncompleted spent nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in the country’s northeast.
The failure of checks at an underground portion of the plant in the village of Rokkasho in Aomori Prefecture for some 14 years eventually resulted in about 800 liters of rainwater flowing into a building housing an emergency diesel generator in August this year. The generator is a crucial device in times of crisis such as the loss of external power.
Japan Nuclear Fuel President Kenji Kudo said at a Nuclear Regulation Authority’s meeting that he will prioritize inspections of all facilities at the plant and suspend its operations to seek a safety approval on the plant to put it onstream.
The utility plans to check its facilities and some 600,000 devices by the end of this year before requesting the authority to resume its safety assessment for the plant.
The body applied for a safety assessment of the plant in 2014 and aimed to complete it in the first half of fiscal 2018, but the goal is likely to be delayed due to the need for inspections.
The envisioned nuclear fuel reprocessing plant is a key component of the government’s nuclear fuel recycle policy, which aims to reprocess spent uranium fuel and reuse extracted plutonium and uranium as reactor fuel.
But the Rokkasho plant has been riddled with problems, with its completion date postponed 23 times since 1997, its initial target. It also had to meet as new, tougher safety standards made in the wake of the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power complex, triggered by the 2011 deadly earthquake and tsunami.
The authority also said holes and cracks at exhaust pipes discovered at Japan Nuclear Fuel’s uranium enrichment plant in September also violate safety rules. The defects were left undetected for a long time due to a lack of inspection.
A utility compiles safety programs, which need to be assessed and approved by the authority.
If any grave flaws are found, the authority can issue an order to stop the operation of the plants or retract its approval to construct a nuclear plant.
Japan Nuclear Fuel “should have a substantial sense of crisis,” a member of the authority said. “We will take necessary measures if an improvement is not seen in ensuring the safety (in operating the plant).”
Nuclear fuel recycling plant screening suspended
Japan’s nuclear regulator says the operator of a nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in northern Japan has violated safety regulations.
The plant in Rokkasho Village, Aomori Prefecture, is run by Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited.
The Nuclear Regulation Authority said at a meeting on Wednesday that the company violated its in-house safety regulations.
In August, rainwater was found to have flowed from piping in an underground tunnel into a building housing an emergency power generator at the plant. The firm was later found not to have conducted necessary inspections of the tunnel for 14 years.
At Wednesday’s meeting, company president Kenji Kudo pledged to address this and other maintenance problems before submitting documents needed for the regulator to conduct safety screening of the plant.
NRA member Satoru Tanaka pointed out that superficial efforts cannot fix the problems because the matter has to do with business operations. He suggested that the company should have a sense of crisis, and warned of tough measures unless safety improves.
The company aims to confirm the safety of all installations at the plant and draw up a management plan this year. Safety screening is required before the plant can fully operate.
Japan Nuclear Fuel appears to face difficulty in completing work on the plant by the first half of fiscal 2018 as planned. The facility is a pillar of the government’s nuclear fuel recycling program.