Today, in the most recent session of the Distinguished Lecture Series, Professor Eric Feldman, deputy dean at University of Pennsylvania Law School delivered a fascinating lecture entitled “Compensating Victims of Disasters: Fukushima and Beyond…” Professor Feldman examined the question “what people deserve compensation when unpredicted disasters occur and when, if ever, should the government intervene?” Due to the professor’s particular expertise in the area of Japanese law, he discussed primarily Japan’s historically consistent policy toward compensating (or rather failure in compensating) victims of disasters. Feldman explained Japan’s relatively heavy reliance on nuclear power, which necessitated the presence of the Nuclear Damage Compensation Act, which provides for 120 billion yen to be spent compensating those affected by nuclear disasters. While this sum appears significant, it pales in comparison to the estimated 2 to 10 trillion yen worth of damage caused by the Fukushima disaster. Professor Feldman went on to discuss the evident disparity between compensation levels based on exact distance from the disaster site, which has caused a great deal of unfairness in treatment of victims. He explained that farmers, because of their powerful unions and lobbies which influence government policy are the highest compensated group in Japan today, keeping for themselves which could arguably be more fairly distributed to victims directly affected by the incident. Feldman concluded by describing the current crisis faced by Japanese citizens who have extremely limited access to legal counsel which could significantly help them to obtain badly needed compensation.
Text: Harrison Vail