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TEPCO Held Liable for Fukushima Disaster

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From Majia’s Blog
The Japan Times is reporting that TEPCO was found liable for the Fukushima disaster in a case brought by citizens whose lives were terribly upended by the Daiichi meltdowns and spent fuel pool fire:
Government, Tepco ordered to pay ¥500 million in damages for Fukushima disaster. Kyodo [The Japan Times] https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/10/10/national/crime-legal/court-orders-tepco-government-pay-damages-fukushima-disaster/#.WdzdCjvdnFI
…[in] the second ruling of its kind in a series of group lawsuits filed nationwide. The Fukushima District Court ordered the government and Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. to pay ¥500 million to about 2,900 of the 3,800 plaintiffs…. In the ruling, presiding Judge Hideki Kanazawa concluded that the government and Tepco are both to blame for failing to take steps to counter the risk of a huge tsunami caused by an earthquake, as they were able to foresee the risk based on an assessment issued in 2002.
TEPCO was responsible in many ways for the Fukushima disaster, but culpability extends beyond this single corporation and the government responsible for its regulation. I’ve explained in my post “nuclear governmentality” that the nuclear apparatus is unified by a set of common logics, technologies, protocols, authorities and value orientations that are global in operation (http://majiasblog.blogspot.com/2017/09/nuclear-governmentality.html).
 
CULPABILITY and LIABILITY
 
Reactors 1 through 5 at the Fukushima Daiichi site were based on General Electric’s Mark I design. This design was declared flawed by two engineers from General Electric who resigned in 1975 after expressing concerns about potential containment failures, particularly in loss of cooling accidents. You can read more here:
Fukushima: Mark 1 nuclear reactor design caused GE scientist to quit in protest. (2011, March 15). ABC the Blotter. Available http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/fukushima-mark-nuclear-reactor-design-caused-ge-scientist/story?id=13141287
General Electric’s poor reactor design likely contributed to the explosions that occurred at the Daiichi complex. Reactors like the ones that melted down in Fukushima are still operating in the US and elsewhere.
 
 
The nuclear industry is rendered immune from its culpability by limits on liability and by seemingly unconditional governmental support (a finding explained by the “security” logic of nuclear governmentality).
 
 
In Japan, the Atomic Energy Basic Law passed in 1955, the same year the LDP was formed, focused nuclear liability on plant operators (such as TEPCO), thereby absolving designers (e.g., GE). The law allowed for use of nuclear power for energy and created the Japanese Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and the Japan Atomic Energy Research Institute. It dictated control over fissile materials, measures for patented inventions, and radiation protections.
 
Article 21 of the law dictated compensation for nuclear accidents, although the law has been criticized for not specifying level of governmental responsibility.
 
The government of Japan has ultimately assumed responsibility for TEPCO’s liabilities, although the corporation operates as a stand-in. TEPCO returned to profitability in 2013 having externalized most of its losses in a state-sponsored plan to offload liabilities:
 K. Ohira and M. Fujisaki (31 July 2012) ‘Taxpayers, Electricity Users Finance TEPCO Bailout’, The Asahi Shimbun, http://ajw.asahi.com/article/0311disaster/fukushima/AJ201207310068
TEPCO’s 2016 Annual Report (http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/corpinfo/ir/tool/annual/pdf/ar2016-e.pdf) describes how the company has been dis-assembled into holding companies in its efforts toward renewed profitability.
 
 
 
A rational assessment of cost and benefits must also address the risks posed by nuclear power.  The existence of an international nuclear liability convention points to the potential cataclysmic risks from nuclear power hazareds and demonstrates how decision-makers limit economic liability for the nuclear complex, allowing it to externalize full costs.
 
The Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage (CSC),[i] limits international liability for nuclear disasters by offering a uniform and limiting set of compensation standards for victims of nuclear disasters in impacted countries not the origin of the disaster. The convention also exonerates manufacturers, placing liability exclusively on operators. 
 
The convention essentially limits only the liability, but not the incalculable risks, from nuclear accidents. The externalities of international nuclear disasters are therefore primarily assumed by the exposed individuals. Although fixed costs and liabilities cannot be provided, it is possible to address actual and potential liabilities and risks from nuclear power.
 
In 2012 Japan expressed interest in joining the CSC after a February visit by U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy, Daniel Poneman.[ii] During the visit, a Japanese prime ministerial envoy “secretly promised” to Poneman that Japan would resume its pluthermal nuclear program, raising considerable controversy in Japan when leaked because of the dangers of plutonium enriched MOX fuel, as subsequently reported by The Mainichi :
A Japanese prime ministerial envoy secretly promised to the United States that Japan would resume its controversial “pluthermal” program, using light-water reactors to burn plutonium, according to documents obtained by the Mainichi. 
The secret promise was made by Hiroshi Ogushi, then parliamentary secretary of the Cabinet Office, to Daniel Poneman, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy, during Ogushi’s visit to the United States on behalf of then Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda in September last year. The revelation comes as Japan’s pluthermal project remains suspended in the wake of the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant disaster due to safety concerns. The fact that a Japanese official promised to the U.S. to implement such a controversial project without a prior explanation to the Japanese public is expected to stir up controversy.[iii]
Poneman advocating running Japan’s Rokkasho reprocessing plant, which had drawn safety concerns when, as mentioned previously, Japanese scientists announced finding a potentially active fault running through the site.[iv]
 
At a July 2012 press conference, Poneman implicitly endorsed plutonium-enriched MOX fuel production at Rokkasho as an important tool for reducing climate change and reducing Japan’s excessive plutonium stockpiles:
“Obviously what is done in the long term at Rokkasho is a decision for the Japanese people, the Japanese government to make,” Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman said during a July 2012 press conference in Tokyo. 
He added that “to the extent that there would be paths forward for Rokkasho” that could avoid increasing Japan’s stockpile of plutonium, “that would be a good thing.” Poneman coupled this, however, with a public pitch for letting Japan use nuclear power to reduce carbon emissions, acknowledging that it is an important tool “for our friends and colleagues in Japan … who are very worried about climate change.”[v] 
MOX fuel increases likelihoods of risks because of the increased heat and radiological contamination produced by its fissioning. Despited acknowledged risks, demonstrated empirically with the explosion at Fukushima Unit 3, Japan’s Atomic Energy Commission endorsed continuing fuel recycling.
 
The Rokkasho plant construction is still underway, although also still delayed, as reported recently here http://fissilematerials.org/blog/2017/10/rokkasho_plant_is_facing_.html
 
Despite this setback, Japan’s Atomic Energy Commission remains a cheerleader for plutonium production at the very troubled Monju reactor, as part of the “national energy mix”:
Associated Press (15 September 2017). Bucking public sentiment, Atomic Energy Commission backs nuclear power for national energy mix (Sep 15, 2017 ) https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/09/15/national/commission-supports-nuclear-power-japans-energy-needs-despite-shift-public-opinion/#.WcE9ucbdnc 
The report also endorsed continuing the government’s ambitious pursuit of a nuclear fuel cycle program based on plutonium, despite a decision last year to scrap the experimental Monju reactor, the centerpiece of its plutonium fuel program, following decades of poor safety and technical problems. Japan faces growing international scrutiny over its plutonium stockpile because the element can be used to make atomic weapons.
Nuclear governmentality, the logic and code of conduct of the nuclear apparatus, operates autopoietically, closed to negative feedback.
 
Individual authorities within this apparatus are rewarded for their role reinforcing and extending nuclear governmentality.
 
Poneman’s role as a nuclear industry advocated was solidified when Poneman left the Department of Energy in 2015 to take on the role of CEO at Centrus Energy, formerly USEC, an enrichment processing facility.
 
The U.S. based Center for Public Integrity noted the nuclear industry’s revolving door relationship with the Department of Energy (DOE), observing that during Poneman’s approximate five year tenure at the DOE he approved or advocated hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts and subsidies to USEC.[vi]
 
U.S. pressure is just part of the big picture at Rokkasho and with nuclear in general in Japan. Nuclear energy and enriched fuel are part of Japan’s national security strategy, as has been publicly acknowledged by LDP representatives. Nuclear power is the gateway to nuclear weapons and rising geopolitical tensions breed anxious warriors. Unwavering support for nuclear power tends to coincide with nuclear-based conceptions of state security. Consequently, the nuclear energy complex is closely coupled in important ways with the military complex….
 
 
REFERENCES
 
[i] T. Nakagawa (3 February 2012) ‘Japan Wants in On Nuclear Accident Compensation Pact’, The Asahi Shimbun, http://ajw.asahi.com/article/behind_news/politics/AJ201202030021, date accessed 5 February 2012.
 
[ii] Ibid.
 
[iii] “Japan made secret promise with U.S. to restart pluthermal nuclear program,” The Mainichi (June 25, 2013): http://mainichi.jp/english/english/newsselect/news/20130625p2a00m0na006000c.htm.
 
[iv] K. Hasegawa ‘Quake Risk at Japan Atomic Recycling Plant’, Pys.Org December 19 2012, http://phys.org/news/2012–12-quake-japan-atomic-recycling-experts.html#jCp, date accessed 25 December 2012.
 
[v] Douglas Birch and R. Jeffrey Smith “Japan’s Well-Placed Nuclear Power Advocates Swat Away Opponents,” NBC (March 12, 2014 ) http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/fukushima-anniversary/japans-well-placed-nuclear-power-advocates-swat-away-opponents-n50396
 
[vi] Douglas Birch, (2015, May 13) Former Energy Department official wins huge pay raise after moving to firm with deep ties to DOE” Center for Public Integrity (May 13, 2015): http://www.publicintegrity.org/2015/05/13/17265/former-energy-department-official-wins-huge-pay-raise-after-moving-firm-deep-ties.
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October 13, 2017 - Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | ,

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