The central part of Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, is deserted after it was designated a difficult-to-return zone following the 2011 accident at the nearby Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
October 24, 2018
After more than three years of discussions, the nuclear damage compensation law will be left largely intact, including unlimited redress from utilities for accidents at their nuclear plants and vagueness about the government’s responsibility.
Only minor changes will be made to the law, such as measures to accelerate provisional payments to victims of nuclear accidents.
Science ministry officials on Oct. 23 presented a draft of proposed legislation to revise the law at a committee meeting of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. The legislation is expected to be submitted to the extraordinary Diet session that began on Oct. 24.
An advisory committee on the nuclear damage compensation system within the Japan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) had been discussing possible revisions since 2015 in part because of the huge compensation amount–now more than 8 trillion yen ($71 billion)–facing Tokyo Electric Power Co. over the 2011 accident at its Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
Electric power companies had asked for some sort of limit in the law, given the situation at TEPCO.
One suggestion was to more clearly delineate the responsibility of the central government and the utilities for compensating victims of nuclear disasters.
A committee member who once worked in Keidanren (Japan Business Federation) supported setting a limit, saying the companies would face a serious management problem if they are unable to predict potential compensation risks.
In return, the central government would shoulder the compensation amount above a certain limit, the member proposed.
However, the committee could not reach an agreement, and no change was made to the provision that sets unlimited compensation responsibility on the part of the utilities.
Utilities will have to continue setting aside a maximum 120 billion yen for each nuclear plant it operates as insurance for a major accident.
Although the insurance amount would appear to be a sort of limit on the electric power companies, the utilities must also contribute to the Nuclear Damage Compensation and Decommissioning Facilitation Corp. (NDF), which provides assistance when compensation demands concerning a single nuclear plant exceed 120 billion yen.
The central government also contributes funds to the NDF.
Calls arose to raise the insurance limit for electric power companies beyond 120 billion yen. However, the insurance industry would not agree to any higher amount, and no change was made in the limit.
Some committee members brought up the topic of whether the central government’s responsibility for compensation should be included in a legal revision.
The electric power industry said the central government should shoulder a greater portion of the compensation responsibility for nuclear accidents because it has continued to define nuclear energy as an important base-load energy source.
Members of the advisory committee brushed aside that suggestion, saying the public would never be convinced in light of the Fukushima accident and the various shortcomings revealed about TEPCO’s management.
Other members cited the possibility that utilities would cut back on safety investment if they knew the central government would pay for compensation.
Discussions about the central government’s responsibility never did get off the ground in the advisory committee, even though a number of recent court verdicts in civil lawsuits have awarded compensation while clearly stating the central government’s responsibility for the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
The minor change to the law to allow electric power companies to more quickly begin provisional payments of compensation was proposed to address problems that arose after the Fukushima accident.
TEPCO took about six weeks to begin provisional payments to disaster victims. The delay, according to TEPCO, was because the utility had no idea about the maximum amount of compensation it would have to pay.
Under the proposed change, the central government will provide loans to utilities so they can immediately begin making provisional payments. Utilities will be obligated to compile guidelines that define the procedures for applying for compensation and making those guidelines widely known.
(This article was compiled from reports by Yusuke Ogawa and Senior Staff Writer Noriyoshi Ohtsuki.)