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Japan could face overseas lawsuits from nuclear crisis
Japan faces the possibility of having to pay huge compensation to overseas victims of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant because it has yet to sign any international convention that defines procedures for filing lawsuits for damages from a nuclear accident that extend beyond a nation's borders.
While the Kan administration has compiled a framework to provide support to Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the Fukushima plant, as it makes compensation payments, if lawsuits were filed overseas the total compensation could go much higher than current estimates of several trillions of yen.
There are three conventions which establish the standards for having the nation where a nuclear accident has occurred handle compensation lawsuits.
One is the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage (CSC), which was agreed to by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Japan had been asked by the United States to join the CSC and has been considering the move.
However, because of a longheld myth in Japan that accidents would never occur at a nuclear plant and other considerations, no decision was made to sign the convention.
Another factor that had been considered was the concerns that anyone in Japan who became a victim of a nuclear accident in a neighboring nation would have to go to the nation where the accident occurred in order to file any lawsuit for compensation.
Because Japan has not signed the convention, if any damage from water contaminated from the radiation leaking from the Fukushima plant were to arise in the fishing industry of another nation or if rubble from the tsunami after the Great East Japan Earthquake were to become contaminated with radiation and drift ashore at another nation, victims in those nations would be able to file lawsuits in their own nation.
Standards for calculating compensation in that nation would also be applied in determining the amount of compensation. That could lead to the possibility of huge compensation amounts being awarded.
Japan's Civil Procedure Law has provisions that allow verdicts made in other nations to be recognized domestically. In recent years, there has been an increase in cases where Japanese companies have faced huge compensation amounts awarded by U.S. courts.
An expert in international private law said if Japan were to sign the convention after the nuclear accident but before any lawsuits were filed overseas, "It might be possible to have Japanese courts gain jurisdiction depending on negotiations with that other nation."
Because of concerns of further damage from aftershocks, a Japanese government source said, "We have to hurry in signing the CSC before any lawsuits are filed."
The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology is in charge of the compensation system.
Kanji Fujiki, director-general of the ministry's Research and Development Bureau, said, "We are thinking more seriously about joining the convention because of the latest accident."
However, Japan would also have to pass bills to implement joining the convention. Moreover, other nations may criticize Japan for joining the convention after the nuclear accident has occurred.
No international convention has yet been applied over a nuclear accident.
However, at the just-concluded Group of Eight summit meeting in France, the leaders agreed to strengthen the functioning of the IAEA.
That is part of a trend toward a more international framework for safety management of nuclear plants and for providing relief to those victimized by nuclear accidents.
After the No. 5 Fukuryu Maru, a Japanese fishing boat, was showered with radioactive ash from a U.S. hydrogen bomb test at Bikini Atoll in 1954, the United States paid 720 million yen ($8.91 million) in compensation to Japan in a political settlement.
The former Soviet Union did not provide compensation to ranchers in the West whose cattle were contaminated by radiation following the 1986 accident at Chernobyl.
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