Lessons from Fukushima: Time to Stop Protecting the Nuclear Industry

What impact has the Fukushima disaster had on the people of Japan?

Page - March 4, 2013
After the nuclear accident began in 2011, 160,000 involuntary and tens of thousands of voluntary evacuees fled Fukushima’s radioactive fallout.

Two years later hundreds of thousands of people in Japan have lost their homes, jobs and communities. None of them have received enough compensation to rebuild their lives.

Why haven’t the victims of Fukushima been properly compensated?

Because a special law protects the suppliers of nuclear plants, all of the costs for meltdowns at the Fukushima reactors fell on TEPCO, the nuclear station’s operator. TEPCO couldn’t shoulder the costs of the accident. It was nationalized by the Japanese government Japanese taxpayers they are footing the bill for this nuclear disaster.

What special law protects the suppliers of nuclear plants?

Almost all countries with nuclear reactors have a special law which shields companies that sell or supply reactors, from compensating victims even if their negligence or faulty reactor parts, cause an accident. 

As a result, in Japan, companies which profited from building and servicing the Fukushima reactors cannot be held accountable for contributing to the disaster or made to pay compensation to victims.

How did the nuclear industry get special liability protection?

It began in the 1950s when American nuclear reactor designers feared being sued for catastrophic damages if one their reactors had an accident.  The insurance industry refused to fully insure the nuclear industry so governments stepped in to protect nuclear operators and vendors.

Before American reactor vendors and suppliers would build their reactors in foreign countries, such as Japan, they required these countries to pass legislation to protect them in the event of an accident.   

What does Fukushima tell us about nuclear liability protection?

Fukushima has exposed how current nuclear liability laws were designed to protect the nuclear industry and force people to pick up the bill for the industry’s mistakes. This is unfair and should change.

Does Canada protect nuclear companies to the same extent?

Yes.  In 1974, the federal government passed theNuclear Liability Act (NLA).  It was designed to encourage the development of nuclear power in Canada by limiting a reactor operator’s responsibility to both compensate victims and clean up the environment in the event of an accident. The industry cap is just $75 million.

The NLA also completely absolves reactor suppliers from compensating victims in the event of an accident.  SNC-Lavalin and GE-Hitachi, who profited from building and servicing reactors in Canada, do not have to pay anything even if their very own negligence or their faulty reactor parts contributed to an accidental radiation release.

What does the Nuclear Liability Act say about the safety of Canadian reactors?

Because the Nuclear Liability Act limits their responsibility it shows that Canadian reactor operators and suppliers believe that major accidents at Canadian nuclear stations are a realistic possibility. 

Do any other industries have special liability protection in Canada?

Yes. The federal government also limits the liability of the offshore oil and gas industry. They only have to pay $ 40 million in the event of a major oil spill. The industry’s need for this protection shows that the oil and gas industry believes the risk of such a major accident to be high.

Does my personal home insurance cover nuclear accidents?

No. Home insurance policies exempt nuclear accidents.  In the event of a nuclear accident, victims would be forced to pay the clean-up costs either directly or through their taxes. 

Does liability protection encourage risk-taking by Canadian reactor suppliers?

Yes.  The Nuclear Liability Act tells companies like SNC-Lavalin and GE-Hitachi they won’t be held responsible if their negligence or faulty reactor parts cause an accident leading to a radiation release.  This tells these companies they don’t have to ensure their reactor parts are safe. They have nothing to lose.

Does the cap on the nuclear industry’s accident liability have a negative impact on green energy?

Yes. The cap on the nuclear industry’s accident liability represents a hidden subsidy for nuclear power. and creates an unfair playing field for safer green energy technologies

A 2009 study by Dr. Gordon Thompson found the Harper government’s proposal to increase the nuclear industry’s liability cap from $75 million to 650 million would still create a hidden subsidy ranging from 5.4 to 11.0 c/kWh. Based on the electricity output of Canada’s reactors in 2007, this would provide an implicit subsidy to Canadian reactor operators of $4.8 to 9.7 billion.

Renewable energy and clean energy operators pay their own insurance and are fully liable for their facilities in the event of an accident. Liability protection for nuclear operators thus pushes cleaner, safer and more cost-effective green energy options out of the electricity markets.

How well insured are the homes around the Pickering and Darlington nuclear stations?

Far below what they are worth. There are 437,000 households around the Pickering nuclear station valued at $178 billion.  There are 163,000 households around the Darlington nuclear station valued at $57 billion. 

These amounts far exceed the total cap of $75 million dollars in insurance carried by Ontario Power Generation.

How many people would need to be evacuated in the event of a Fukushima-scale accident at Pickering or Darlington?

An accident causing the evacuation of a 20-km area around the Pickering nuclear station would force the relocation of 1.3 million people.  An accident at the Darlington nuclear station would force the relocation of almost half a million people (477,000).

This is many many more people than the 160,000 that were required to evacuate from the 20km area around the Fukushima nuclear station.

What does Greenpeace believe should be done?

Nuclear polluters should pay. All companies in the nuclear industry should be responsible for the risks they create. 

Greenpeace believes that the protection of the public and the environment should be the first priority of government legislation. This requires a fundamental revision of the NLA so that the entire nuclear industry is fully accountable for its actions and accidents.

Green energy operators are required to assume responsibility for the risks they impose on society. Reactor operators must be too.