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Japan Eyes Liability Pact to Aid Fukushima Response

A worker looks at radioactive-water storage tanks under construction in March at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Japan plans this year to consider ratifying a treaty that would shift any nuclear-accident liability to the operators of atomic facilities. A worker looks at radioactive-water storage tanks under construction in March at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Japan plans this year to consider ratifying a treaty that would shift any nuclear-accident liability to the operators of atomic facilities. (Toru Hanai/AFP/Getty Images)

Japan may ratify a treaty forcing atomic-facility operators to assume full liability for any accidents at the sites, Bloomberg reports.

The country's foreign ministry on Friday said that joining the pact -- called the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage -- would embolden knowledgeable U.S. firms to support decontamination and dismantlement efforts at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Four of the atomic facility's six reactors suffered meltdowns after the site sustained substantial damage in a 2011 tsunami.

Japanese lawmakers would consider a ratification bill for the treaty in 2014, the foreign ministry said. It provided no further details on the legislation's anticipated timing.

U.S. Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman on Thursday said Japan's ratification of the agreement would "give confidence to U.S. companies" by shielding them from potential legal action, the Japan Times reported.

"If there is confusion about liability, they’re just not about to take a business risk of getting into new markets," according to the U.S. official.

Antinuclear advocates, though, contend that the treaty contains inappropriate protection for nuclear-facility builders, as well as other problems, according to Bloomberg. Opponents noted that Japan's government began covering Fukushima recovery expenses, which now stand at roughly $108 billion, after the costs forced the plant's private operator close to bankruptcy.

"Capping the amount of liability that either the nuclear operator or the state would be responsible for fundamentally limits the amount that victims can be compensated for," according to Kendra Ulrich, an activist with Greenpeace International in Amsterdam.

The pact has yet to enter into force among its signatories, and only four nations have joined the treaty to date: the United States, Argentina, Morocco and Romania.

Japan's entry would render the agreement legally binding by bringing the collective nuclear-power capacity of its members to 400 gigawatts.

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