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Successful legal action against nuclear power, and more court cases to come

Nuclear Power Facing a Tsunami of Litigation, Nippon, Shizume Saiji [2018.03.12]   In March 2011, a magnitude-9 earthquake triggered a giant tsunami that crippled the cooling system at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, leading to a catastrophic accident that continues to reverberate seven years later. Science reporter Shizume Saiji surveys the legal fallout from the meltdown, from claims against the government and the operator to a raft of actions aimed at permanently shutting down the nation’s nuclear power industry………….

Complacency and Opacity

In the wake of the Fukushima accident, NISA (since replaced by the Nuclear Regulation Authority) was faulted for its lack of independence. The agency was under the authority of the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, which promotes the use of nuclear power, and officials maintain that its regulatory powers were limited. In addition, a closed, inbred environment encouraged unhealthy ties between NISA and the electric power industry. As a consequence, NISA had fallen into the habit of accommodating and supporting the utilities instead of overseeing them. TEPCO, for its part, had developed a deeply rooted culture of denial, habitually concealing information that might supply ammunition to anti-nuclear activists or fuel fears among the local citizenry. The company brushed off the warnings, convincing itself that the danger from a giant tsunami was purely hypothetical.

So far, district courts have reached decisions on three major class-action suits, and in each case they have agreed with the plaintiffs that the state and TEPCO could have foreseen the danger from a major tsunami once the 2002 report on earthquake risks was released. Two of the district courts, Maebashi and Fukushima, found both the state and TEPCO negligent for failing to prevent the meltdowns. The Chiba District Court, on the other hand, dismissed claims against the state on the grounds that the government was focusing on earthquake safety at the time and may not have been able to formulate effective measures in time to protect Fukushima Daiichi against the March 2011 tsunami. With the government and TEPCO girding up to appeal the lower courts’ decisions, the cases could drag on for years……….

Fighting Nuclear Power, One Plant at a Time

On a different but related front, citizens’ groups and other plaintiffs are vigorously pursuing lawsuits and injunctions aimed directly at shutting down nuclear power plants around the country.

Efforts to block nuclear energy development through legal action date all the way back to the 1970s.

………. At present, almost all of Japan’s operable nuclear power plants are in the midst of some kind of litigation. In one case, the plaintiff is a local government: The city of Hakodate in Hokkaidō has filed a lawsuit to block the construction and operation of the Ōma Nuclear Power Station across the Tsugaru Strait in Aomori Prefecture.[Excellent graphs show 38 nuclear reactors suspended, and 3 operating]

Lawyers on a Mission

Lawyers Kawai Hiroyuki and Kaido Yūichi have been key figures in the fight against nuclear power since before the Fukushima accident. In the wake of the disaster, they founded the National Network of Counsels in Cases against Nuclear Power Plants, a group that has been pursuing legal action against nuclear facilities on behalf of citizens and other plaintiffs nationwide.

Kawai and Kaido are also representing the shareholders of TEPCO, who are suing the company’s former executives for an unprecedented ¥5.5 trillion. In addition, as lawyers for the Complainants for the Criminal Prosecution of the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster, the two attorneys are working alongside the prosecuting team in the criminal case against three TEPCO executives, which parallels the civil suit in terms of arguments, evidence, and testimony.

Even so, the trial—which officially opened last June and is expected to continue at least through the coming summer—is expected to attract intense media coverage as witness examinations begin this spring. More than 20 witnesses are scheduled to testify. The case also involves a massive volume of documentary evidence, including records of interviews conducted by the government’s Investigation Committee on the Accident at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Station, along with countless pages of emails, internal memos, meeting minutes, and reports. Will all this information shed new light on the human factors behind the Fukushima accident? The nation will be watching closely.

(Originally published in Japanese on February 19, 2018). https://www.nippon.com/en/currents/d00388/?pnum=2

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March 14, 2018 - Posted by | Japan, Legal

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