Japan to join global nuclear compensation pact

TOKYO - Japan will join at least four other nations in a pact to help compensate victims of nuclear accidents in member countries, a newspaper reported on Friday, as it continues to grapple with the aftermath of the world's worst atomic disaster in 25 years.

The Asahi daily said that Tokyo could in the fiscal year starting in April sign up to the US-led plan, under which countries would pay money into a shared fund they could draw on if they suffered a nuclear accident.

The government has decided to join after an earthquake and tsunami wrecked the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in the country's northeast, triggering power shortages and radiation leaks that caused mass evacuations and widespread contamination. It had previously resisted, arguing that nuclear accidents were highly unlikely in the country, the paper said.

If damage claims exceeded 37 billion yen (S$606 million) after a nuclear accident in another member country, Japan would be on the hook for around 7-8 billion yen, the Asahi reported, without citing sources.

Morocco, Romania and Argentina have already joined the scheme, dubbed the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage, which also lays out legal guidelines for compensation claims related to atomic disasters.

Under the agreement, firms that export nuclear plant technology to member countries would not be liable for claims related to any accidents at facilities using the equipment, with the operator forced to shoulder the burden.

The treaty needs at least five states that have a minimum of 400,000 megawatts of combined nuclear capacity to go into effect, and the United States had asked Japan join, the Asahi said.

With only three of Japan's 54 nuclear reactors currently running, the government is striving to persuade a wary public that it is safe to restart some of the reactors, in order to avoid a power crunch in the summer.