As a nuclear campaigner, I have seen the nuclear industry walk away from its mistakes many times, ignoring people’s suffering.

But it is the terrible effect on people of a nuclear disaster such as Fukushima that really brings home the flaws of the nuclear system.

Nearly two years after the disaster, the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in Japan are still being disrupted. When the disaster hit, their lives were turned upside down. They were forced from their homes, they lost their jobs, families were split up and communities were abandoned due to the radioactive fallout.

People are not able to get fair compensation. Many are still unable to return home or rebuild their lives elsewhere. Imagine living in limbo like that, stuck between past and future.

How can this be happening?

Blame the unfair system that protects the nuclear industry from paying for its failures. This system is called nuclear liability. It is a joke.

Engineer Mitsuhiko Tanaka discusses the cover up of production flaws in the vessel
for Reactor 4 at Fukushima. While the flaws and cover up didn’t cause the explosion
at Reactor 4, they are examples of why the nuclear industry can’t be trusted.

Make the industry pay

A risky industry like the nuclear industry should have to pay for its damages, just the way big oil companies have to pay for spills. But the nuclear industry is protected. Governments did that to help the nuclear industry get started decades ago. They have never fixed the problems this protection created.

Greenpeace examines the flaws of the unfair system in a new report, Fukushima Fallout: Nuclear business makes people pay and suffer.

We commissioned three experts to look at the continued Fukushima suffering in relation to the worldwide system of nuclear conventions that lets the nuclear industry off the hook, while at the same time, forcing the public to pay the vast majority of the costs in the event of a nuclear accident.

When there is a disaster, the system doesn't require a nuclear plant operator to pay more than a tiny fraction of the costs of a disaster. Even in Japan, where nuclear operators were supposed to pay all the costs of a disaster, TEPCO, the operator of the Fukushima nuclear plant, simply does not have enough money to pay more than a fraction.

Flawed design

It gets worse. The system doesn't make the companies that supply material for nuclear plants pay anything at all to help the victims. So the world's big reactor sellers, GE, Hitachi and Toshiba among others, pay nothing if there is a disaster at one of the reactors they sell.

The gap between what the nuclear industry pays and what the public pays is enormous. In most countries with reactors, the damages a nuclear operator might be required to pay range from 350 million euros to 1.5 billion euros. That range is tiny when compared with the costs of a disaster.

For example, the Fukushima disaster could cost up to US$250 billion, according to recent estimates. The cost estimates for the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 range from 55 billion euros to 270 billion euros.

The Japanese government had to nationalise TEPCO because it couldn't pay even the early recovery costs. TEPCO's key reactor suppliers GE, Hitachi, and Toshiba, built the plant's reactors based on a flawed design. But they are protected. No help from them.

This means that Japanese taxpayers will end up paying the bulk of the costs of the disaster.

This isn't a problem that just affects Japan. If there was a nuclear disaster at any one of the world's 436 reactors, the same story would play out. Taxpayers would pay most of the costs.

It is well past time when this flawed system should be fixed. It’s simple: the polluter must pay. The companies that create nuclear risks must be made to pay for their failures, not the people who suffer from them.

That's why Greenpeace has launched a campaign to change the system. Our Fukushima Fallout report that explains the problem is the start. We need your help.

Sign our petition. Let governments know that the entire nuclear industry must be held accountable for the damage it causes.

Rianne Teule, Energy Campaigner at Greenpeace International