Purolite Company based in the US has sued Hitachi for 1 billion USD in a US court over theft of intellectual property.The suit alleges that Hitachi signed on to a joint venture to develop contaminated water systems for Fukushima Daiichi back in 2011 or 2012. Once Hitachi had the proprietary technical information from Purolite they signed on to work on the project with AVANtech. Purolite alleges that Hitachi broke business agreements by sharing Purolite’s confidential trade secrets related to the decontamination of water including radioactive waste with other companies in the hopes of securing a major contract. Hitachi breached deals in which Purolite agreed to confidentially share proprietary information about its Core Technology water treatment process in a joint venture to win contracts to decontaminate water at the Fukushima plant, which was heavily damaged by a 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Purolite said Hitachi shared the information with the water treatment company AVANTech to secure the decontamination contracts.
The allegations surround technologies developed by Purolite for the remediation of the disaster site caused by the nuclear disaster at Fukushima Daiichi in March 2011. The Fukushima Daiichi plant suffered damage from both an earthquake and a subsequent tsunami which caused the facility’s cooling system to shut down. The plant continues to contaminate both groundwater and water used to cool the nuclear reactors. As Purolite’s suit notes, there are a few factors which make the cleanup of the Fukushima site much different than other decontamination jobs, such as regular water treatments at other nuclear power plants. A large amount of saltwater exists at the Fukushima plant and the salt can affect how radioactive materials can be filtered out of the water. The presence of more than 60 types of radionuclides, or atoms with excess nuclear energy, is much higher than the number of radionuclide types generated in water at other plants. The amount of water to be treated for radioactive waste removal is also the largest amount in history.
Soon after the nuclear disaster, Purolite began work on creating a core technology which is comprised of a multi-nuclide removal system. Purolite’s water decontamination systems make use of ion-exchange resins produced in the form of tiny beads which can trap radioactive ions in a liquid phase for their removal. In the research and development process, Purolite worked with a range of ion-exchange resins, adsorbents, adsorbent tower groups and vessels and created a water treatment system designed to reduce 62 of the 63 radionuclides present in the Fukushima water to the non-detect level without using desalination techniques. As Purolite’s complaint notes, no nuclear cleanup in history has been able to bring radionuclide levels down to the non-detect level.
In October 2011, Purolite entered into a confidential business agreement with Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy (HGNE), a joint venture between Hitachi and American conglomerate General Electric to develop nuclear power services. Purolite was to provide water treatment expertise to HGNE, which operates power plants but did not have the adequate treatment expertise, to form a joint venture for obtaining contract work at the Fukushima site. Agreements signed between the two companies by the end of 2011 prohibited HGNE from disseminating Purolite’s trade secrets for a period of 10 years. Under terms of the agreement, Purolite was barred from selling its core technology to other partners and HGNE was prohibited from purchasing equipment or solutions similar to Purolite’s technologies.
The suit, which asserts violations of federal and state trade secrets laws, as well as tortious interference, unfair competition and unjust enrichment claims, seeks at least $1 billion in compensatory damages.
Keywords: trade secrets, unfair competition, infringement, nuclear power plant, water decontamination, Hitachi.