Convention on Supplementary Compensation on Nuclear Safety does not protect you

The Convention on Supplementary Compensation (CSC) is an international nuclear liability regime governed by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The convention, signed in 1997, but sofar not in force for lack of interest, channels and pins absolute liability onto the operators of the nuclear power plant. In addition, it also acts as a pool from where signatory countries can draw funds if necessary in case of a nuclear accident. With Japan signing and ratifying CSC in January this year, it came into force on 15 April.

Many nuclear reactor and equipment supplying companies would want you to believe that the sole purpose of CSC is to help you receive your compensation quickly and speedily after you are hit by a nuclear accident. However, this is not true. The CSC was not created to protect your interest and your rights, but in fact it was created to shield multibillion dollar nuclear reactor manufactures and suppliers from their responsibilities. These companies don’t want to be held liable for damages caused due to an accident at any of their inherently dangerous nuclear plants and hence hide behind the protective shield of CSC.

In the 1980s, India did not have any law to deal with liability and damages caused by industrial accidents and then was hit by the Bhopal catastrophe. Many countries around the world including U.S., did not have such law either. However Immediately after the gas leak tragedy in Bhopal, Henry Waxman, a Democrat from California, ordered an inquiry. As a direct consequence of Mr. Waxman’s actions, there is a law in place that protects citizens of the U.S. from such chemical leaks.

India’s Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage (CLND) bill was tabled in the parliament in 2010, the same year in which a Bhopal court convicted 7 union carbide officials for causing death due to negligence. Since the verdict came more than 25 years after the gas tragedy, it aroused national and international interest. 2010 was also the same year when an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig caused the world’s largest oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Needless to say that these events influenced the CLND to a great deal and this is how  clause 17 was incorporated in the Act.

Clause 17, in simple language, states that the operator shall have the right to sue the supplier if the accident was the fault of a manufacturing defect. In other words, it states that if a GE Hitachi plant in India were to explode due to manufacturing or design defect, the Indian nuclear operator would have the right to sue GE Hitachi for damages. Wouldn’t you agree that this clause is a fair one to have?

Companies such as French Areva and EdF, US’s Westinghouse, Japan’s GE Hitachi, Toshiba and Mitsubishi, Canada’s SNC Lavalle / AECL and Russia’s Rosatom don’t think it’s fair to allow operators this right to recourse. They say that India should change its law in accordance with CSC. These companies have been pressurizing the Indian Government since the time Indian Parliament enacted the law. Foreign diplomats and dignitaries such as Canadian Consul General Richard Bale openly criticised India and asked the Government to “tweak the liability law”. Russian President VladimirPutin and the Former French President Sarkozy asked India to follow the international liability regimes. A senior official from the Obama administration asked “India to ensure that its nuclear liability regime conforms with the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage”.

Just few months after India passed its nuclear liability law, on 11th of March 2011, Japan suffered a triple meltdown nuclear disaster at its Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. A Japanese Government’s investigation report stated that negligence as well as fault in design was what caused Fukushima nuclear disaster and not the earthquake or the tsunami. The cost of Fukushima crossed $100 billion but since Japan did not have a nuclear liability law, it was the taxpayers who’ve had to pay, and many of the victims still suffer under inadequate compensation. Whereas GE, Hitachi and Toshiba, the companies that designed and built the Fukushima reactors have not had to stand up and pay for their responsibility.

Just over a year after the Fukushima nuclear accident, the President & CEO of GE Hitachi Canada wrote to the Canadian authority reviewing consultations for a new nuclear liability law in Canada, making arguments why nuclear suppliers should be indemnified from liability. In his letter dated May 28 2012, he wrote, “In the event of a nuclear accident involving one of Canada’s reactors – all of which are along the U.S. border – there would likely be a flurry of legal actions against several parties, particularly those with deep pockets like GEH Canada”. Notice the use of word “deep pockets” here.

He further wrote, “That is exactly what happened in 1984 when an accident at a chemical plant in Bhopal, India, resulted in multiple lawsuits in U.S. courts against Union Carbide, the parent of the Indian company where the accident occurred”.

Mr. Mason used Bhopal as an example to enforce his statement about companies with “deep pockets”. In just a few words, Mr. Mason discredited the legitimate demands of the victims of Bhopal gas tragedy. Being one of the worst industrial disasters of our time, Bhopal is the very reason why we should have supplier liability. To date, GE Hitachi also has to apologize yet for its role in the Fukushima catastrophe.

After having witnessed the aftermath of Bhopal gas tragedy rather closely, I find Mr. Mason’s statement very offensive. But when the stakes are so high, decisions can’t be emotionally driven. It has to be logical and fair. If the fault is theirs then the responsibility should be theirs too. The only fair thing to do is to protect supplier liability in India and ensure other countries follow suit.

Hozefa Merchant works as nuclear analyst for Greenpeace India. 

via Greenpeace news

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