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Fukushima makers General Electric, Hitachi and Toshiba in the court Featured

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The interview with Mr. Choi Seungkoo, a representative of No Nukes Asia Action – an organization that filed a lawsuit, involving 4000 claimants from Japan and 32 other countries, against the manufactures of Fukushima reactors GE, Hitachi and Toshiba.

How come that a person who filed a lawsuit against the makers of Fukushima Daiichi for the accident is not even a 'pure' Japanese but a Japan-born Korean?
I have been a human rights activist long before the nuclear catastrophe in Fukushima and it is not the first time that I have filed a lawsuit against Hitachi. Many years ago this company fired a 19-year old ethnic Korean resident of Japan just because of his Korean nationality. In the employment application form he filled in his Japanese name and his Japanese present address, where he was actually born.

However, Hitachi concluded that he had hidden his origin when he took the recruitment examination - therefore he was a liar. Interestingly, in the process of the trial we found the secret manual of Hitachi, which indicated that they would not hire any handicapped people, communists, Sokagakkai members (a kind of Buddhist) and foreigners. The World Council of Churches (WCC) and many Japanese organizations supported his trial, which we won and the man entered Hitachi. He had worked there for 40 years.

What was the trigger to file the lawsuit against Hitachi and alike nuclear technology exporters this time?
I was very shocked, that in spite of March 11 not only Japan but also Korea was eager to export nuclear power plant technology to other Asian (and not only) countries. South Korea and Japan are developing SMRs (Small Modular Reactors), aimed especially at emerging markets in India, Indonesia, Malaysia, etc. And China is building up some of its own versions of AP1000, a new reactor of Westinghouse — a subsidiary of Toshiba.

However, I didn’t file the lawsuit alone. The Reactor Suppliers Lawsuit was filed by No Nukes Asia Action (NNAA), an NPO that I belong to and which was launched on November 10, 2012 at a press conference held at Shinano-machi Church. I belong to the protestant church and 30% of the key members of NNAA are Christians. We are a group of citizens wishing to live in a world free from nukes, both weapons and nuclear power. As for today, we have almost 4000 plaintiffs of the lawsuit from Japan, Mongolia, South Korea, Taiwan, Russia, the US, Canada, Malaysia, etc.

What made you sue the major American and Japanese corporations, not just the operator of Fukushima nuclear power plant?
NNAA decided to sue companies that supplied the nuclear reactors and other nuclear equipment once me and my colleagues learned about the Act on Compensation for Nuclear Damage (原子力損害賠償に関する法律), enacted by Japan in 1961. The “Responsibility Concentration System” prescribed in the Act exempts the nuclear suppliers from liability for a nuclear accident and stated, that “the nuclear power operator  (in this case Tokyo Electric Power Company [TEPCO]) should be exclusively required to take whole responsibility on any nuclear damage caused by an NPP accident.” Manufacturers of Fukushima Daiichi - General Electric, Hitachi and Toshiba - have taken shelter under the Section 5 of the current Japanese liability law, which gives them practically full legal immunity.

Nonetheless, finally the financial burdens are imposed not only on the power supply company and the government, but most of all, on the taxpayers – us. By the way, TEPCO could get only a fraction of the compensation money for the victims from the state-backed Nuclear Damage Facilitation Fund (NDF), regardless of the 24 requests it has made so far.

The makers don’t have to pay a penny. More than that – they are free to export! It should be noted that this unreasonable protection system of the nuclear power industry secretly dominates the world. South Korea, the Philippines, Taiwan, Indonesia and other countries, which have nuclear power plants (NPPs), have signed the same act or introduced a similar law. I’m pretty sure, that Polish government has also signed its own Act on Compensation for Nuclear Damage; you can check it. Without the Act, you cannot export, as the makers need a guarantee, that if something happens, they don’t have to pay – this is the real face of this capitalist venture. 

So what’s your secret to challenge the liability protected by this peculiar law exempting the culprits from liability?
Mr. Akihiro Shima, the top attorney of No Nukes Asia Actions, came up with the idea, that although neither the operator TEPCO nor the government can call the nuclear plant manufactures to legal account for the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident, we – the citizens – can do it. We based our claims on the Articles 13 and 25 of the Constitution of Japan, which guarantee the right to life and public health.

This year on January 30 we, as group of over 1500 claimants from Japan and 32 other countries, filed a lawsuit in the Tokyo District Court. As after that we gathered a few thousands more plaintiffs, we decided to file a lawsuit once more. Japan’s judicial system has set a “time limit” of three years for any court case over the Fukushima Daiichi meltdown, which means any such lawsuit had to be filed by March 10th, 2014.

Our lawsuit involves questioning justifiability of the Act and the main objectives are to abolish Japan’s Act on Compensation for Nuclear Damage, to spread the move worldwide, and to make the world free from nuclear power. Our “token” compensation claim is rather symbolic – only 100 JPY per plaintiff.

Wasn’t it the tsunami that should be responsible for the accident in Fukushima?
As early as in 1970s, its own engineers, e.g. Dale G Bridenbauh, warned General Electric about certain critical flaws in the design of some reactors when they were being built in Fukushima. I mean the flaws in the design of the reactor Mark I - defects which have contributed to the radioactive contamination after the tsunami. According to the research conducted by Greenpeace, in case of Fukushima’s Unit 1, during the loss of coolant in March 2011, the pressure inside the containment vessels exceeded their design capacity up to almost twice.

GE, Hitachi and Toshiba built five Mark I reactors at Fukushima Daichi, three of them failed on March 11…For some reason, GE never really tried to revise the design and tackle the safety flaws of those reactors. In addition, GE did not even bother to properly incorporate Japanese anti-seismic standards to Mark I construction, apart from some ad hoc reinforcements during the construction.

Many Japanese, who we spoke to about your lawsuit, were surprised why you didn’t sue only the General Electric but also Hitachi and Toshiba?
Most Japanese don’t know who exactly made the reactors. Although General Electric designed all the six reactors in Fukushima Daiichi, it only supplied the reactors for Units 1, 2, and 6. The reactors for Units 3 and 5 were constructed by Toshiba and the reactor for Unit 4 by Hitachi.

What is your message for Japan and other Asian countries as a member of NNAA?
If we can win the lawsuit, the citizens of other countries can win it too and hopefully stop the spread of NPPs. But we need to consolidate solidarity network if we want to dismantle the nuclear renaissance - the symbol of post-world war “colonialism”.

In Taiwan 250, 000 people came out to the streets – more than 1% of country’s population – and claimed abolition of NPPs in an anti-nuclear rally. Japan is the one, which exported nuclear technology to this small Asian country 23 years ago. Why don’t we, the citizens of Japan, support Taiwanese in their anti-nuclear efforts? If Taiwan could stop nuclear power plants, it would have a  tremendous impact on the world future of nuclear technology.  

Hanna Kazahari and Fabiola Tsugami                                                            

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