Saturday, March 26, 2011

Radiation and the Big L: Liability that is

The terrible tragedy of Japan’s failed nuclear reactors continues at this writing, and raises questions that nearly everyone alive would like answered. Each nation and geographic area has its own stories and concerns, from broken monitoring equipment in California to Germany’s announced decision not to develop nuclear power further. Then, we have a couple reactors sitting on a fault line-California again, close to mega population centers. And France, unfortunately, deep into nuclear power. Boy, what a good time to be in Norway. And time for a re-think? You betcha.

I was a bit curious, and had already been looking into the international law of the environment for other research and writing reasons. So I turned around and grabbed the book, International Law of the Environment, edited by Patricia Birnie, Alan Boyle and Catherine Redgwell, Oxford University Press (2009). Here are some of my resulting notes, in case you are interested.

State responsibility for nuclear-related damage is found under two different theories. The first is strict or absolute responsibility, which makes a State responsible for damages caused, purely on the basis of the ultra-hazardous character of nuclear installations. The point of this, from a litigation standpoint, is that States would have the role of guarantors for the operators and companies that caused the damage. The burden of proof would fall on the State, therefore, to show that it should not be held liable. However, as Birnie et al. note, ‘Conventions are still considered weak’ (517).

The second theory is that the State is liable for a breach of their obligation, which is diligent control. Under this theory, there is no discussion of fault, and so this approach eliminates the need to discuss the subjective elements of intention or recklessness. Despite this, there does seem to be a difference in the treatment of damages due to, for example, dumping, and those due to unintended releases.

In 1990, the IAEA established the Standing Committee on Liability for Nuclear Damage. This resulted in suggestions to revise the Vienna Convention on Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage. Some States agreed that strong revisions were needed, while others were opposed, stalemating effective action in important areas. What was agreed was that a publicly-funded compensation scheme should be implemented. The State with the problem installation would provide limited funding to that, while other States would contribute, “up to a ceiling.” Birnie et al. cite the 1997 Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage,


as well as the “2004 Protocol to the Paris Convention”

( ).

To conclude, the authors forecast that, due to uncertainty in the prevailing laws, parties to a new problem would turn to the schemes outlined in these agreements, and noted, also, that “non-party claims are possible” (520).

So where’s this Fund? And when is Japan going to put some new money into it?

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Financial Regulation & Debt Reduction Time Now

Dear Reader,

Banking Regulation and Debt Reduction. Sound interesting to you? I didn’t think so. Not to the average reader, anyway. Yet, little, it seems, could be more important than that serious banking regulation take place in the U.S. (Eeeks, the new and old financiers are muttering). In fact, it should also take place in Europe. (Errrr, the Europeans are muttering.). It should also take place in Asia. (Mmmm, the Chinese are muttering.) But shouldn’t the U.S. lead the way? Of course, it should: it’s also responsible in many ways for popularizing the sorts of Mobius-strip financial ‘instruments’ that don’t belong in anyone’s bank anywhere.

Here, Time takes a look at the new CFPB – the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. http/,8599,2056587,00.html.  Great article.

Of course, the CFPB is supposed to be an effective organization, ready to take on the banks and protect individuals. Can it do that? Mmm, say the Senators, it sounds suspiciously effective; we think we should gut its budget. I refer to the article at Huffington Post of this week, “Top Republican: ‘Senate May Approve Elisabeth Warren for CFPB,” March 1, 2011: http/

But as for Elisabeth Warren, who has the perfect credentials for the job of directing the CFPB and who has not been confirmed yet, the Senators, are saying, 'Mmm, she’s perhaps not our preferred candidate.’ What a bunch of hooey; what Americans should ask is whether these Senators are the sorts of persons who will protect their individual, personal rights and expectations, and answer that question by tossing the whole lot of them out as soon as possible. Those who can be spared are working on a debt reduction plan, Senators Chambliss, Warner and others: http/

Elisabeth Warren, who chaired the Congressional Oversight Panel created to investigate the U.S. financial meltdown and identify responsible parties and nasty behavior, is the only proper person to head the CFPB organization. She is the one and only right person, and she should be confirmed as soon as possible. Meanwhile, as the HP points out in their article, the banks are holding their breath, none to happy for what may happen when the CFPB begins to work. And the newly-radicalized American Chamber of Commerce has the gall to stall. Meanwhile, “if a permanent director is not confirmed by July, the agency will lose jurisdiction over payday lenders and some mortgage companies.”

This stalemate is hurting the effectiveness of the new laws designed to govern financial behavior. Even the executive branch is stalling on debt reduction, while Congress dedicates itself to decimating the last vestiges of civilized society by further gutting social program budgets, and refusing to participate in debt reduction.

I don't think this is an easy situation, but I would expect those in a position to do something about it to embrace the chance to make a positive difference, rushing to confirm Elisabeth Warren and get the CFPB going as soon as possible, protecting social service budgets, and creating a debt reduction plan that would pass with flying colors. What? What?

Politics is terribly dirty business, but this has to be something that everyone can agree to: save the financial stability of the United States, as well as its ability to serve those in need. Is this something Americans would disagree about? No. Is this something anyone is doing something about, i.e. actually doing something about? Apparently not.

Such a chance - to do the right things. Such a shame - everybody’s pointing and shuffling.