Prompted by the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, Japan has decided to join an international convention that will set a global uniform standard for compensating victims of such nuclear disasters, sources said.
Tokyo has decided it would be of benefit to belong to the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage (CSC), as it is seeking to restart its own nuclear reactors and to export reactor technology to other nations.
Japan has not joined any similar international conventions because it did not anticipate a major accident could occur in a nuclear plant in its own country. But that stance has been changed by the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 plant, which was triggered last March by the Great East Japan Earthquake and the tsunami it spawned.
The CSC currently has four nations that have signed and ratified the convention: the United States, Argentina, Morocco and Romania. The United States, the leading advocate of the CSC, has been calling on Japan to join.
The convention would grant "exclusive jurisdiction" to Japan in the event an accident in the nation affected other countries. Following the Fukushima accident, it has been seen as a major potential burden that Japan could face court proceedings overseas if victims abroad sued concerned parties for compensation.
To join the CSC, which could happen as early as in fiscal 2012, which starts in April, the government hopes to submit a convention bill to the current session of the Diet. However, chances of passage are thin, because doing so would require passing an amendment to relevant domestic legislation. Tokyo will instead try to ratify the convention after it has drawn up a new energy policy framework in the summer.
Under the CSC, the member states jointly shoulder the cost of compensation for nuclear damage when the liability exceeds 300 million International Monetary Fund special drawing rights ($465 million, or 35 billion yen).
Japan may have to contribute 7-8 billion yen ($92 million-$105 million) into an international fund in the event of an accident abroad after it has joined the convention.
The convention would also ensure "exclusive liability of the operator," which means that all liability should be borne by the nuclear operator, not the manufacturers, if an accident occurs at a nuclear reactor exported by Japanese enterprises. That provision requires that the importing country also join the CSC, but Japan was expected to find it difficult to call on countries buying reactors from its domestic manufacturers to join the treaty unless it was a signatory in the first place.
The International Atomic Energy Agency pointed out a need for an international compensation framework during a Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Safety it hosted in June.
Daniel Poneman, the U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy, also said during his visit to Japan in December that "the events at Fukushima ... emphasized the need for a global nuclear liability regime" and called on Japan to ratify the CSC.
An international convention on liability does not work sufficiently unless neighboring nations, which could be affected, also sign and ratify the pact. Japan is hoping that Taiwan, South Korea and other Asian countries will also join the CSC.
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