The National Diet of Japan [official database], the nation's bicameral legislature, voted [bill materials, in Japanese] on Wednesday to compensate those adversely affected by the recent Fukushima [IAEA backgrounder] nuclear power plant meltdown. The law will create a fund that could start dispensing money to victims as early as August 10. Although the government has initially agreed to contribute two trillion yen (USD $25.9 billion), damages are expected to run much higher than that. The bill will also financially support the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) [corporate website], maker of the defective reactors, to prevent the utility from dissolving. However, TEPCO must first submit a comprehensive restructuring plan as well as a proposal for allocation of the funds to victims. There is also a bill under consideration that would obligate the government to clear radioactive debris [Japan Times report]. On Friday, the Japanese government officially shifted its energy policy [Japan Times report] away from nuclear energy.
The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in March 2011 is considered one of the biggest man-made environmental disasters of all time and the largest nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986. Following the 9.0 magnitude Tohoku earthquake and tsunami on March 11, three Fukushima reactors experienced full meltdowns, while the other three malfunctioned in various other ways. Due to the tsunami, flood waters swept in and out of the building, becoming irradiated and affecting the surrounding area. Japan has been criticized for its handling of the crisis, and international reception to nuclear energy has fallen sharply since the incident. In a Forum op-ed, Fukushima Illustrates Need for Nuclear Policy [JURIST op-ed], Tamar Cerafici of the Cerafici Law Firm discussed how the Fukushima disaster should guide US policy.