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Withholding minutes and refusing to disclose names

October 25, 2014

Ministry withholds minutes from nuclear accident compensation resolution meetings


The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry is withholding minutes from meetings held by the top decision-making panel of the Nuclear Damage Compensation Dispute Resolution Center, which is the government-backed body handling alternative dispute resolution (ADR) for the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Moreover, the ministry has also refused to disclose all of the names of the mediating attorneys who are working out settlement proposals on behalf of the panel.

It earlier came to light that the ADR had compiled an internal document stating that the causal relationship between the Fukushima nuclear crisis and the deaths of those who evacuated from areas hit by the disaster should be set at a uniform 50 percent when calculating the amount of compensation to be paid to bereaved families.

Experts in government information disclosure have pointed out that the ministry's refusal to disclose the details of the meetings is an extremely abnormal response.

The nuclear accident ADR top decision-making body is comprised of three members: Chairman Yoshio Otani, who previously served as a judge;, Isomi Suzuki, a lawyer; and Kazuhiko Yamamoto, a professor at Hitotsubashi University.

The panel has worked out comprehensive standards for compensation to victims of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. However, since the only information disclosed was the outline of standards and the date of their compilation, the Mainichi Shimbun asked the ministry for full access to the minutes of the panel's meetings under the government's freedom-of-information system in order to assess the process of working out the standards.

In response, the ministry admitted that the minutes of the panel's sessions are preserved at the center, but refused to disclose the documents. Consequently, it is not possible to verify what the three panel members said during the meetings, the themes of the sessions, the dates and places of the gatherings, or whether the meetings were actually held.

With regard to the reasons for withholding the minutes, the ministry explained that disclosure of the information would hinder the frank exchange of opinions among the panel members, compromise the panel's neutrality in making decisions, cause confusion among the public, and adversely affect the panel's execution of its duties.

The Mainichi Shimbun also asked the ministry to disclose the identities of mediating attorneys in an effort to see if they have a vital interest in Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the operator of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant. Citing the need to protect the mediators' personal information, however, the ministry released the list of the mediators with their names and personal history blacked out.

While the Nuclear Damage Compensation Dispute Resolution Center discloses the names of 202 mediators in its reports on specific cases that have been settled, information regarding the 80 others remains withheld.

There are six government-backed organizations that handle ADR across the country, including the Nuclear Damage Compensation Dispute Resolution Center. The five other organizations have disclosed the identities of all their mediators on their respective websites. Two of the five bodies have also disclosed minutes from meetings of their top decision-making panels on their websites, while the three others responded that they will consider disclosing such information if requested under the freedom of information system.

October 25, 2014(Mainichi Japan)

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