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”.
 
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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.

Rokkasho Fuel Reprocessing Plant Faked Safety Records For 14 Years

 (Kyodo) 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…
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Unfinished nuclear fuel reprocessing plant faked safety records: NRA
The firm that owns an uncompleted nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in Aomori Prefecture failed to conduct necessary checks and falsified safety check records relating to the plant, the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) has reported.
The NRA concluded on Oct. 11 that Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. (JNFL) has violated safety measures after it was learned that the firm failed to carry out the required checks and nevertheless continued to write down “no abnormalities” in safety check records. There has been a spate of incidents such as the flow of rainwater into facility buildings at the plant in the Aomori Prefecture village of Rokkasho.
The plant, which is scheduled to reprocess spent nuclear fuel, was on the verge of hosting a final-stage NRA safety inspection, but the checkup is likely to be postponed considerably as JNFL now has to prioritize in-house inspections of all facilities at the plant.
One of the main roles of a nuclear fuel reprocessing plant is the extraction of reusable uranium and plutonium from spent nuclear fuel, making it a key part of the nuclear fuel cycle. However, the Rokkasho plant has been riddled with problems, and its completion date has been postponed 23 times since the initial planned opening date of 1997. Currently, the plant is scheduled to be completed in the first half of fiscal 2018, but this could be difficult.
In August, it came to light that about 800 liters of rainwater had flowed into an emergency electrical power building at the plant. The cause was the leaking of rainwater from an underground facility. This facility, however, has never been checked since its construction in 2003. JNFL nevertheless gave it a false “no abnormalities” appraisal in its daily records. Furthermore, about 110 liters of rainwater also flowed into the underground facility in September.
Apparently, the firm has tried to clarify the issue by saying that, “The (no abnormalities) comment was referring to another underground facility nearby.”
The company plans to complete safety checks at all its Rokkasho plant facilities within the year, and then submit the results to the NRA — with the intention of inviting the NRA to resume safety inspections of the plant.
(Kyodo) 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…
Japan Nuclear Fuel skipped safety checks at Rokkasho plant for 14 years
Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd.’s Rokkasho reprocessing plant in Rokkasho Village, Aomori Prefecture, allegedly violated safety rules for over a decade.
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 about 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 on stream.
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 and reuse extracted plutonium and uranium as reactor fuel.
But the Rokkasho plant has been inundated with problems, with its completion date postponed 23 times since 1997, its initial target. It also had to meet new, tougher safety standards made in the wake of the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power complex, triggered by the powerful March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated parts of the Tohoku region.
The authority also said holes and cracks at exhaust pipes found at Japan Nuclear Fuel’s uranium enrichment plant in September also violated safety rules. The defects had been undetected due to a lack of inspections.
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).”

UN: Japan Violated Human Rights, Fukushima Evacuees Abandoned

“Why should people, especially women and children, have to live in places where the radiation level is 20 times the international limit?” Sonoda said. “The government hasn’t given us an answer.”
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Mitsuko Sonoda’s aunt harvesting rice in her village, which is outside the mandatory evacuation zone, before the disaster.
Fukushima evacuee to tell UN that Japan violated human rights
Mitsuko Sonoda will say evacuees face financial hardship and are being forced to return to homes they believe are unsafe
A nuclear evacuee from Fukushima will claim Japan’s government has violated the human rights of people who fled their homes after the 2011 nuclear disaster, in testimony before the UN in Geneva this week.
Mitsuko Sonoda, who voluntarily left her village with her husband and their 10-year-old son days after three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant went into meltdown, will tell the UN human rights council that evacuees face financial hardship and are being forced to return to neighbourhoods they believe are still unsafe almost seven years after the disaster.
“We feel abandoned by the Japanese government and society,” Sonoda, who will speak at the council’s pre-session review of Japan on Thursday, told the Guardian.
An estimated 27,000 evacuees who, like Sonoda, were living outside the mandatory evacuation zone when the meltdown occurred, had their housing assistance withdrawn this March, forcing some to consider returning to their former homes despite concerns over radiation levels.
In addition, as the government attempts to rebuild the Fukushima region by reopening decontaminated neighbourhoods that were once no-go areas, tens of thousands of evacuees who were ordered to leave will lose compensation payments and housing assistance in March next year.
The denial of financial aid has left many evacuees facing a near-impossible choice: move back to homes they fear are unsafe, or face more financial hardship as they struggle to build lives elsewhere without state help.
“People should be allowed to choose whether or not to go back to their old homes, and be given the financial means to make that choice,” said Kendra Ulrich, senior global energy campaigner for Greenpeace Japan.
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Sonoda’s son and a friend drinking from a mountain stream before the disaster.
“If they are being put under economic pressure to return, then they are not in a position to make an informed decision. This UN session is about pressuring the Japanese government to do the right thing.”
Evacuees are being encouraged to return to villages and towns near the Fukushima plant despite evidence that some still contain radiation “hot spots”.
In Iitate village, where the evacuation order was lifted this March, much of the surrounding forests remain highly radioactive, although homes, schools and other public buildings have been declared safe as part of an unprecedented decontamination effort.
“You could call places like Iitate an open-air prison,” said Ulrich. “The impact on people’s quality of life will be severe if they move back. Their lives are embedded in forests, yet the environment means they will not be allowed to enter them. Forests are impossible to decontaminate.”
After months of moving around, Sonoda and her family settled in Kyoto for two years, where local authorities provided them with a rent-free apartment. They have been living in her husband’s native England for the past four years.
“We’ve effectively had to evacuate twice,” said Sonoda, who works as a freelance translator and Japanese calligraphy tutor. “My son and I really struggled at first … we didn’t want to leave Japan.”
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Sonoda and her family near her home in Fukushima before the disaster.
Concern over food safety and internal radiation exposure convinced her that she could never return to Fukushima, aside from making short visits to see relatives. “It’s really sad, because my village is such a beautiful place,” she said. “We had a house and had planned to retire there.”
The evacuations have forced families to live apart, while parents struggle to earn enough money to fund their new accommodation and keep up mortgage payments on their abandoned homes.
“Stopping housing support earlier this year was an act of cruelty,” Sonoda said. “Some of my friends had to go back to Fukushima even though they didn’t want to.”
Greenpeace Japan, which is assisting Sonoda, hopes her testimony will be the first step in building international pressure on Japan’s government to continue offering financial help to evacuees and to reconsider its resettlement plan.
It has called on the government to declare Fukushima neighbourhoods unsafe until atmospheric radiation is brought to below one millisievert (mSv) a year, the maximum public exposure limit recommended by the International Commission on Radiological Protection.
While 1 mSv a year remains the government’s long-term target, it is encouraging people to return to areas where radiation levels are below 20 mSv a year, an annual exposure limit that, internationally, applies to nuclear power plant workers.
“Why should people, especially women and children, have to live in places where the radiation level is 20 times the international limit?” Sonoda said. “The government hasn’t given us an answer.”
 
Fukushima evacuees have been abandoned by the Japanese government
Mitsuko Sonoda says Tokyo is violating the human rights of evacuees by pressuring them to return to the area, even though radiation levels remain high following the 2011 nuclear power plant disaster
I used to live in Fukushima with my husband and our child, in a fantastic natural environment with a strong local community. That was until the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011 destroyed coastal communities and killed tens of thousands of people.
The day after it hit, there were constant aftershocks. It gave us another massive scare when the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant exploded. We decided to evacuate to Western Japan to protect our child.
The government raised the level of “acceptable” exposure to the same standard as nuclear workers – 20 times the international public standard. My son was not a nuclear worker, but a little boy, more vulnerable to the effects of radiation than adults.
Like my family, many fled contaminated areas that were below the raised emergency level, but higher than acceptable. We have been labelled “self-evacuees”. We have never received compensation, outside some housing support.
Some of the evacuee children have struggled to adjust to a different environment. They have continued to miss family, friends and old schools, and have been bullied by other children in their new residences. There were even rumours of “contagion”.
Many children also really miss their fathers, who have often stayed in Fukushima for their jobs.
Mothers have silently tackled these difficulties, including health problems in themselves and their children. We have sometimes been labelled neurotic, irrational and overprotective, our worries about radiation dismissed. Divisions and divorce have been common.
All the while, we miss our relatives, friends, old community and the nature we used to live in.
In March, the government lifted evacuation orders, and the housing support for self-evacuees stopped. Citizens were pressured to return to Fukushima. Research said radiation levels still exceeded the government’s long-term goals.
Because evacuation orders have been lifted, Tokyo Electric Power Company will also stop compensation for victims by March 2018. We need this accommodation support to continue any kind of stable life.
Before Fukushima, they said a major accident could not happen. Now they say radiation is not a problem. They say hardly any compensation is needed. Why should we have to return to live in a radioactive area? Nuclear victims don’t seem to have the right to be free from radiation.
I’m travelling to Geneva this week to testify at a pre-session for the UN Human Rights Council’s review of Japan. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s resettlement policies are violating our human rights. If the Japanese government doesn’t support the nuclear survivors, what’s stopping other countries from doing the same in the future?
Mitsuko Sonoda is a Fukushima nuclear accident survivor and evacuee. She now advocates for the rights of nuclear disaster victims, and is going to the UN Commission for Human Rights with the support of Greenpeace Japan

Voluntary evacuees win compensation over Fukushima nuclear disaster

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FUKUSHIMA — The Oct. 10 ruling by a district court here, in which Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) and the Japanese government were ordered to pay plaintiffs in Fukushima and nearby prefectures a total of 500 million yen in damages from the 2011 nuclear disaster, covered those who lived outside evacuation zones, signaling a shift in the compensation system.

Roughly 3,800 plaintiffs brought a suit against the company and the state requesting a total of some 16 billion yen in damages, and of them, the Fukushima District Court ordered payments for some 2,900 people ranging from 10,000 to 360,000 yen per person. The court also recognized the responsibility of the national government in the nuclear disaster, ruling that it jointly pay half of the 500 million yen.

 

The majority of the plaintiffs in the case lived outside of the evacuation zones and voluntarily left the area following the disaster. Others lived outside of Fukushima Prefecture and were not eligible for receiving compensation from the accident. The decision recognized the right of voluntary evacuees and some in neighboring prefectures to compensation, expanding the scope of those eligible to receive payments.

“This opened up the possibility for anyone to be able to claim damages and receive relief,” the legal group representing the plaintiffs in the case commented.

The number of residents who lived in the same areas as the victorious plaintiffs in Fukushima Prefecture alone exceeded 1.5 million. While the odds of the case being appealed are high, if the court maintains its ruling, it will have an enormous impact on the current compensation system.

Concerning the government’s involvement in the accident, the court decision cited a 2002 long-term assessment concluded by the government’s Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion, which predicted that a tsunami caused by a magnitude-8 or higher earthquake was possible along the coast of Fukushima Prefecture. The court pointed out that based on this assessment, the government could have predicted that a 15.7-meter tsunami could hit the power plant just as TEPCO estimated later in 2008, and stated that the government’s inaction to order the utility to prepare tsunami countermeasures by the end of 2002 was “significantly lacking in rationality.”

The standard for the amount of damages to be paid by TEPCO was decided in interim guidelines put in place by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology’s Dispute Reconciliation Committee for Nuclear Damage Compensation, and a broad distinction in compensation between those living in and nearby evacuation zones and those who chose to evacuate voluntarily was drawn by the end of 2011.

The amount to be paid to those living in the evacuation zones was set at a minimum of 8.5 million yen, but the amount awarded to voluntary evacuees was set at 80,000 yen in principle. Additionally, those living in the Aizu region of Fukushima Prefecture, Ibaraki Prefecture and other areas not directly nearby the reactors were completely excluded from receiving compensation, creating a disparity among evacuees from different regions and leading to numerous litigations.

Because of this, the plaintiffs in the Fukushima case claimed that they, including those living outside the evacuation zones, shared the same worries of having been exposed to radiation. Without claiming individual compensation, the group decided to file the suit for 50,000 yen per month until the radiation levels in the air where each person lived returned to the pre-disaster levels — 0.04 mircosieverts or lower in all cases — regardless of the place of residence of the plaintiff.

Additionally, they divided the regions where the plaintiffs lived in such a way that a total of 35 representatives from each of the areas testified to damages. There are few precedents of this method, such as noise disturbance cases for those living near airports and military bases, but the group decided to adopt the method as it looks to have the state review the conventional compensation system itself.

The Oct. 10 court decision stated that the interim guidelines were merely a yardstick, and that the certification of compensation payments exceeding those guidelines should naturally be allowed, taking one important step forward in restructuring the system.

“Behind those 2,900 plaintiffs who won compensation are all of the victims (of the Fukushima disaster),” said lawyer Yoshio Nagumo, the head of the group’s legal team. He hopes that this case will become an example to lead the reform of the compensation system. However, the amount actually awarded to each person was low.

“The ruling doesn’t accurately reflect the damage suffered,” said Jun Watanabe, another member of the legal team, hinting at the possibility of appealing the ruling. “We’ll fight in order to raise the amount of appropriations even further.”

http://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20171011/p2a/00m/0na/014000c