The US has “kindly offered” to help Japan with the decommissioning of the Fukushima reactors and the problems with the ongoing leakages of radioactively contaminated water.
Is the US being the good Samaritan? Unfortunately not. Before the US will provide assistance, Japan has to sign the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage (CSC). This is an international treaty that supposedly provides an international regime on nuclear liability -- the who-should-pay-for-a-nuclear-accident issue.
But the real aim of the CSC, along with other international conventions on nuclear liability, is to protect the nuclear industry. It caps the total compensation available after a nuclear accident at a level much lower than the actual costs. The companies that supply nuclear reactors and other material are exempt, they don't have to pay anything if there is an accident. The operators of nuclear plants are the only ones accountable for paying damages but the CSC protects them too by not requiring them to have enough money or financial security to cover the costs of an accident.
From the beginning of the use of nuclear power 60 years ago, the nuclear industry has been protected from paying the full costs of its failures. Governments have created a system that protects the profits of companies while those who suffer from nuclear disasters end up paying the costs. The world's big reactor sellers, such as GE, Hitachi and Toshiba, pay nothing if there is a disaster at one of the reactors they sell.
Fukushima is a cruel example of this unfair practise. GE designed the Fukushima reactors and built them along with Hitachi and Toshiba. Yet these companies are not being held accountable to cover the costs of the mess their reactors created. It’s taxpayers who end up bailing out the nuclear industry.
Even worse: the now nationalised Fukushima operator TEPCO just booked its first profits since the Fukushima disaster: $1.44 billion. At the same time, TEPCO has said it won't pay the costs for decontamination work in areas around the Fukushima plant that will likely exceed $30 billion. Sounds fishy to me…
The Japanese government’s plan to break up TEPCO and take direct control of the Fukushima clean-up means that taxpayers once again would have to open their wallets. Even though TEPCO by law is required to cover all the costs of the decontamination, it simply refuses to pay and the Japanese government lets them get away with it.
And now the US is blackmailing Japan into signing the international treaty that protects American companies. “You need help to solve your radioactive water problems? We can help you! Please sign on the dotted line…”
The US is not offering help to Japan out of the kindness of its heart, but to give a lifeline to its dying nuclear business. The US has been pushing ratification of the CSC in other countries where they hope to expand their nuclear business, such as India, Canada, Korea.
Japan signing the CSC would have two important benefits for the US: 1. It would reduce the chances that GE can be sued for damages from the Fukushima accident, and 2. It could secure future business opportunities in Japan for American nuclear suppliers.
The nuclear sector is dying. To survive, it continues to evade responsibility for its failures. In my view, companies that are not willing to take responsibility for their actions should not get into (nuclear) business in the first place.
The liability system that protects the nuclear industry is flawed and must be fixed. It is well past time for that improvement. The change is simple: make the polluter pay. Companies that create the enormous risks of nuclear power must pay for their failures, not people who end up suffering from them.
Dr. Rianne Teule is a radiation expert with Greenpeace International.