Hiranuma positive on nuclear agency spinoff

Takeo Hiranuma, minister of economy, industry and trade, voiced confidence Friday over a proposal to spin off the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency from METI to enhance the agency’s role.

“I think we should discuss it seriously,” Hiranuma said at a meeting of a House of Representatives committee on industrial matters.

“We should reform things if necessary after examining overall measures for tightening safety rules, strengthening coordination with the (government’s) Nuclear Safety Commission as well as studying how the nuclear safety agency can work on its own.”

But Hiroyuki Hosoda, state minister in charge of science and technology affairs, did not share Hiranuma’s optimism.

“Currently, there is the dual-check system by the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency and the Nuclear Safety Commission,” Hosoda told a news conference.

There have been calls for the nuclear safety watchdog to be made an independent entity since a series of coverups of reactor problems by nuclear power companies, including Tokyo Electric Power Co., came to light.

The agency is working under the supervision of METI, which promotes nuclear policy.

Aomori Gov. Morio Kimura is among those advocating independence for the nuclear safety agency.

A national government plan to build a plant in Aomori to recycle plutonium produced in other nuclear plants initially met with resistance from prefectural residents concerned about safety.

The national government intends to begin operations at the plant in July 2005.

On Thursday, Kimura indicated he might not allow spent nuclear fuel to be shipped to his prefecture if the national government fails to properly address safety concerns raised by the recent scandals.