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HOME  > Past issues  > 2011 August 3 - 16  > ‘Nuclear Safety Agency’ is patchwork without policy change
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2011 August 3 - 16 [POLITICS]

‘Nuclear Safety Agency’ is patchwork without policy change

August 7, 2011
Prime Minister Kan Naoto at a press conference in Hiroshima City on August 6 commented on a proposal to set up a nuclear safety agency as a great advance, and called for it to be discussed and carried out without much delay. The proposal for the agency, however, is not worthy of being described as a great advance.

In the proposal published by Hosono Goshi, minister in charge of nuclear accidents, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), presently regarded as the regulatory body, will be separated from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) and integrated into the Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC) which is to be separated from the Cabinet Office, and will belong either to the Environment Ministry or the Cabinet Office as an extra-ministerial department.

The point is that the proposal may keep intact the problem of the existing NISA. Nikkei of August 6 pointed out that 70-80% of the staff of the proposed new agency could be NISA personnel.

The NISA, which is a regulatory body in name, has in fact acted as a body promoting nuclear power generation, and has failed to prevent the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant accident. In its post-accident efforts, the NISA has exposed itself as incapable of controlling the crisis situation. Though it poses as “a body with a strong sense of mission, with neutrality and fairness” before the public, facts show that the NISA instructed Chubu and Shikoku electric power companies to stage manipulation of opinions towards promoting nuclear power generation at government-run symposiums. It is outrageous to maintain under a different name the very organization which should be dismantled.

To make the new organization an extra-ministerial bureau of the Environment Ministry or the Cabinet Office is another problem. Though some argue that the Environment Ministry has nothing to do with nuclear power generation, it is a well-known fact that the Environment Ministry has been supporting nuclear power generation under the “sacred” mantle of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The Cabinet Office is not a better choice. The present NSC under the Cabinet Office is taking irresponsible attitudes in responding to the Fukushima nuclear accident. Nothing better can be expected from a new body belonging to the Cabinet Office.

The most fundamental problem about the proposal is that the government has not mapped out any clear course toward a future energy policy. According to the government, a new body as an extra-ministerial bureau of the Environment Agency will be modeled after the body in Germany. Then, why has the government not taken the German position regarding the fundamental question?

In Germany, its environment ministry is a supervisor of nuclear power. The German government has clearly decided to permanently shut down all nuclear power plants by 2022.

Contrary to following the German example, the Japanese government and ruling parties are taking almost the opposite course. Prime Minister Kan once expressed an opinion calling for a society without nuclear power plants as a future goal. But he said soon afterwards that it was only his “personal opinion.” Now, he is merely calling for a lower dependence on nuclear power generation. An interim report on energy strategies published on July 28 by the Democratic Party of Japan’s project team on growth strategies and economic measures clearly states that NPPs now in suspension of operations should resume operations after their safety is confirmed.

A genuine regulatory body must embody the wisdom of independent experts and engineers in the wake of the dissolution of the NISA, ensured of complete independence from nuclear energy promotion institutions as the Japanese Communist Party has demanded. In order for this to come about, it is essential that discussions be linked to a basic policy aiming towards withdrawal from nuclear power generation.
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