Academic journal article Washington International Law Journal

Introduction: The Fukushima Dai-Ichi Nuclear Disaster and the Future of Nuclear Energy Programs in Japan and East Asia

Academic journal article Washington International Law Journal

Introduction: The Fukushima Dai-Ichi Nuclear Disaster and the Future of Nuclear Energy Programs in Japan and East Asia

Article excerpt

I. Introduction

On March 11, 2011, a massive 9.0 magnitude quake and powerful tsunami slammed the northeastern region of Japan. Huge seismic activities knocked out the power at the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant, and ensuing tidal waves disabled the backup generators for cooling systems to the active reactors. This triggered a series of hydrogen explosions and released dangerously high levels of radioactive particles into the atmosphere. The Japanese government declared a nuclear emergency, due to the worst nuclear crisis in Japanese history, and decided to evacuate 140,000 residents within twenty kilometers of the plant to various relocation centers.1

In April 2011, the government raised the accident assessment to Level 7, the worst rating on an international disaster scale, acknowledging that the devastating human and environmental consequences might be dire and long lasting. The government also allowed the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), an operator of the damaged nuclear plant, to dump more than 10,000 tons of radiation-contained effluent from the nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean,2 which angered many neighboring countries.3 South Korea, in particular, protested and accused Japan of violating of the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Waters and Other Matters.4

The damaged nuclear plant continues to release radioactive particles that have been detected in tap water as far away as Tokyo, as well as in agricultural products such as vegetables, tea, milk, and beef. Despite the ongoing disaster, Prime Minister Yoshihoko Noda suddenly announced in December, 2011 that TEPCO had finally regained control of the reactors, declaring an end to the world's worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.5

For many people in Fukushima, the affected areas in northern Japan, and in neighboring countries, the crisis is far from over. Fawsuits have been continuously filed against TEPCO to recoup the cost of removing radioactive materials from contaminated areas and to deal with the potential health hazards from radiation exposure. It will take many decades to build the sarcophagus over the Fukushima reactors, stop radiation leaks, and decontaminate the surrounding areas. As of December, 2011, more than 160,000 Fukushima residents still remain displaced from their homes.6

II. The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster Panel

In order to examine the geo-political impact of the Fukushima nuclear disaster and the future of nuclear programs in Japan and East Asia, a panel session called, "The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster: Energy Sovereignty and the Future of Atomic Energy Ambitions in East Asia" was held at the Second East Asian Faw and Society Conference at Yonsei University College of Faw in Seoul on October 1, 2011. The five papers presented at the panel addressed a wide range of socio-legal ramifications of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Their underlying theme was that the nuclear disaster in Fukushima helped expose a deep collusion between the Japanese government and corporate interests. The nuclear program was originally developed in Japan in order to fulfill the government's ultimate desire to develop its own nuclear weapons, while Toshiba, Mitsubishi, Hitachi, and other large industrial conglomerates reaped huge benefits from developing nuclear technologies and exporting nuclear plants to developing countries.

For Volume 21.3 of the Pacific Rim Law & Policy Journal, the editorial board is honored to publish two of the articles presented at the conference. These articles were specifically chosen because of their legal focus on nuclear policies and the future of nuclear programs in East Asia.

The first article, by Professor Eri Osaka of Tokyo University of Japan, analyzes the Japanese government's potential liability as well as the corporate liability of TEPCO for the Fukushima nuclear disaster and its consequences.7 The article also examines the corporate liability of General Electric ("GE") under the United States' Alien Tort Claims Act. …

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