Japan is to help Vietnam set up a compensation plan for nuclear accidents, despite criticism that its own system fails to meet victims’ needs.
It hopes the deal will lead to a greater share of more lucrative nuclear work. Vietnam is currently establishing a nuclear-power industry and is seeking to build 10 reactors by 2030.
“Drawing on lessons from the Fukushima nuclear accident, we want to help (Vietnam) build nuclear power plants with the highest level of safety,” said industry minister Yukio Edano.
He signed a memorandum of understanding with Vietnam’s minister of science and technology, Nguyen Quan, in Hanoi on Aug. 14.
But opponents of nuclear power in Japan criticize the government for trying to export atomic technology at a time of uncertainty over the future of its own nuclear plants.
“Should (Japan’s government) send them overseas when it cannot manage them itself?” said Sadako Ogata, former president of the state aid body Japan International Cooperation Agency.
Vietnam, whose population is 88 million, needs to meet burgeoning demand for electricity and seeks to have four reactors online by 2021. Japan and Russia have orders for two each.
In July, Vietnam asked Japan to help draw up a compensation plan for accidents such as the March 2011 meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear plant.
Vietnam already has such a plan, but the upper limit for payouts is low. In the event of a major accident it would be unlikely to meet real compensation needs.
The two nations will now set up a council to discuss changes, including the revision of related laws.
But critics argue Japan’s government has yet to pay satisfactory compensation over its own nuclear disaster. They say payouts by the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., have been delayed and insufficient.
They say Japan’s 1961 Law on Nuclear Damages Compensation was itself inadequate and remains so today.
For example, it envisages only minor incidents. When three reactors melted down at Fukushima, TEPCO found itself unable to shoulder ballooning compensation costs for evacuees and others affected by the disaster.
Yet the law does not oblige Japan’s government to step in. Critics say that lets the nation’s leaders evade responsibility for the accident.
“It is obvious the law has defects,” Edano acknowledged at a news conference in April.
Japan and Russia both hope for a further share of Vietnam's nuclear spending. South Korea, too, is competing for global orders.
The International Atomic Energy Agency forecasts the number of one-gigawatt nuclear reactors worldwide to increase by 130 to 170 by 2030.
The government of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has pushed for nuclear-power agreements with other countries, some of which won approval in the Diet last year.
It has turned management of the Fukushima disaster into a sales pitch.
The agreement with Vietnam declares: “It is a duty (for Japan) to share worldwide the experiences and lessons of the nuclear accident at the Fukushima plant.”
Critics say customers may not be convinced.
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