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The Legal Framework of the Lawsuit against the Nuclear Reactor Suppliers

The Legal channeling of Liability – A system which only obliges electric power companies to bear the responsibility for nuclear accident damages

When a nuclear accident occurs, the responsibility for damage should be borne by the state, the nuclear reactor suppliers and the nuclear power plant operators. Under the joint-and-several liability, victims are basically entitled to demand compensation for loss from all these entities.

Nevertheless, there is the Compensation for Nuclear Damage Act (CND Act) in Japan, an obstacle in the process of filing a lawsuit on the issue of nuclear accident damage. The followings are the articles in the CND Act concerned with nuclear accidents; (1) nuclear plant operators are solely obliged to take responsibility for damage regardless of whether their act of negligence caused the nuclear accident (Article 3-1); (2) entities except plant operators are exempted from the liability for the damages (Article 4-1); (3) the Product Liability Law (PL Law) is not applied to the legal dispute on nuclear accident damage (Article 4-3). As the expression "for the healthy development of the nuclear industry" mentioned in Article 1 of the CND Act implies, this act was chiefly designed to ensure the prosperity of the industry. Thus was born the "legal channeling of liability" to protect the nuclear industry and related businesses from pursuit for liability and to help them to proliferate worldwide.

According to the CND Act and the other related laws, electric power companies are solely obliged to pay compensation of 120 billion yen as a maximum -- the amount provided by the damage-insurance system of Japan's electric power companies. If the compensation exceeds 120 billion yen, the government must pay the excess amount (Article 16-1). However, in reality the compensation is paid by electricity consumers /taxpayers , but not by electric power companies or the government. Namely, the electricity consumers'/taxpayers' money is transferred to the nuclear victims via utilities or the government funding. The reactor builders have nothing to do with this link of the compensation and transfer of money, and are only busy concentrating on their economic activities. How efficiently this system has been functioning for the "healthy development of the nuclear industry"! If we only blame electric power companies, anyone inside of the world-wide nuclear regime never suffers no matter how high we raise our voice in anger since odds are on their side.

We believe beyond a doubt that there is no justice in this legal channeling when thinking of the severity of the damage; the long process toward settling the problem, which may last for a century or more; the compensation conditions; and the irresponsible behavior of TEPCO and the government. On the other hand, the nuclear reactor manufacturers are busy expanding their business chances abroad while being completely exempted from blame. We attributed this extremely unreasonable situation to the legal channeling, believing our claim against the nuclear reactor builders exactly echoed the public's objection to this dubious system.

The Legal Standpoint of Our Lawsuit

We claim damages, based on the PL Law and Article 709 of the Civil Code (tort by negligence), on the premise that the legal channeling in the CND act is unconstitutional. We, the plaintiffs from all over the world filed a lawsuit, demanding compensation of 100 yen each for a part of the damages from mental suffering. The main issue in our action is whether nuclear power plant builders should be exempt from the responsibility to nuclear accident.

We contend that the legal channeling of liability violates the following three rights; (1) the property rights (Article 29-1 of the Constitution) because the legal channeling discourages us from claiming damages for the reactor builders' negligence; (2) the principle of equality (Article 14) because it is irrational to relieve only the nuclear reactor builders from liability for the defects in their products, the most dangerous ones on earth; (3) the right to access to the court (Article 32) because our claim on the issue of the product liability and/or manufacturers' negligence will not be discussed in the court due to the exclusion of liability rule.

However, the core problems are unlikely to be focused on if we only insist on these traditional human rights violations. So, we assert "the right to live a life free from fear of nuclear power" as a new category of human rights, which we named the "No-nukes Rights". The No-nukes Rights is derived from the right to the pursuit of happiness (Article 13 of the Constitution) as well as the right to maintain the minimum standards of wholesome and cultured living (Article 25). Exempting reactor builders from taking responsibility enables them to prioritize economic gains over safety of their products. As long as the legal channeling of liability is effective, we never live safely, free from fear of nuclear accident. Therefore, the legal channeling, favorable only to the nuclear industry but not to the victims of it, is violating the No-nukes Rights.

Besides the standpoint of being unconstitutional, another claim based on Article 5 of the CND Act and Article 423 of the Civil Code may be viable. Article 5 of the CND Act allows TEPCO to demand reimbursement from the third party when the accident was caused by the party's intentional conduct. On the other hand, Article 423 of the Civil Code enables us to claim that reimbursement instead of TEPCO. As the right to the reimbursement is stipulated in the CND Act, this argument requires the court to examine the reactor suppliers' intent. As for the word "intent" mentioned here, it does not necessarily mean that the management of the reactor builders intentionally caused the accident; it is defined as the mental state that they recognizes the possible risk to cause the accident and accept the risk. Since the 1970s, we have been informed of the defects in the reactor containment vessels, known as Mark I type reactors, raising suspicions that the imperfect Mark I would likely trigger nuclear disasters sooner or later. We doubt the reactor suppliers were unaware of such a risk.

This is the outline of our lawsuit. We need to have the court listen to and answer our earnest call for a fair trial. We would like assistance and cooperation from as many people as possible.