Absence of supplier liability provisions cited as a major reason

Is Japan looking to take a leaf out of the Indian nuclear liability law that is considered an obstacle to business by equipment suppliers and welcomed by civil society activists?

The Indian Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act 2010 has evoked interest in Japan as it sets about amending its Act on Compensation for Nuclear Damage, 1961.

One of the reasons for revising the Japanese law is the absence of supplier liability provisions for compensation in case of an accident.

Civil society activists claim that after the Fukushima disaster, Japan realised it could not nail General Electric, the suppliers of the nuclear reactor, because of a weak supplier liability law.

While high-ranking Indian government officials and anti-nuclear activists are on the same page in defending the Indian law, the handful of civil nuclear equipment suppliers and leaders from their countries of origin have expressed their distaste for the liability provisions which Japanese lawmakers are interested in.

Following renewed pressure from leaders of Russia, the U.S. and France, senior Indian officials reiterated that New Delhi had no intention of altering the Indian law which also holds equipment suppliers responsible for a nuclear accident. Washington, in particular, has gone on record to say the Indian law must be changed because it is not compatible with the Convention on Supplementary Compensation.

Recently, Supreme Court lawyer Bikash Mohanty addressed Japanese law makers on the Indian law, especially about the supplier liability provisions. Greenpeace officials say General Electric has taken shelter under Section 5 of the current Japanese liability law, claiming that it gives the supplier practically full legal immunity.

‘Priority on safety’

“By introducing supplier liability we incentivise safety… At a fundamental level this would achieve the illusive balance between profit motives of capitalism and human rights principles. The nuclear liability regime must provide for supplier liability to keep this balance so that all the benefactors of this dangerous enterprise share the devastating effects of nuclear disaster as a common burden. The Indian law as an extension of the right to life with dignity, is a paradigm shift worth emulating,” Mr. Mohanty said at a public discussion held in the Japanese Parliament building. His comments were made available to the media by Greenpeace India.

Its Japanese counterpart is campaigning for the adoption of the Indian law. The Japanese Act is set to be amended in August. “Bhopal gave India an acute understanding of just how crucial it is to have strong liability legislation,’’ Kazue Suzuki of Greenpeace Japan said in a statement.

“Japan must follow India’s example, make all nuclear companies fully accountable for the damage they cause, and put its people before industry profit,” he added.

Another lawyer Shaunak Kashyap will visit Japan in April to impress upon the law makers and opinion makers there to fashion their liability law on the lines of the Indian legislation.