Hiranuma sorry for delay in probe of Tepco scandal

Industry minister Takeo Hiranuma apologized Tuesday for the government’s failure to quickly announce the results of its probe into Tokyo Electric Power Co., which is suspected of falsifying damage reports on its nuclear power plants.

“Taking two years (for the government investigation) is too long in light of common sense. It should have been done more swiftly,” Hiranuma said in a news conference.

“This resulted in a situation for which we must apologize to the nation.”

The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency began looking into allegations of false reporting in July 2000, but Tepco’s refusal to admit to the coverups until last month prevented the agency from disclosing the results until last Thursday. Hiranuma also said he believes Tepco should temporarily halt the No. 2 and No. 5 reactors at its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant for inspections if residents of the municipalities hosting the plant so desire.

The power plant borders the city of Kashiwazaki and the village of Kariwa in Niigata Prefecture. Tepco has already shut down the No. 1 reactor, but the No. 2 and No. 5 reactors, which are suspected of needing repairs, are still in use.

Of the eight reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant and the Fukushima No. 1 and No. 2 plants in Fukushima Prefecture, the utility has decided to shut down five of them. The other three will stay in operation because damage suspected of being covered up is in peripheral facilities less likely to cause serious harm.

Visiting Hiranuma earlier in the day, Kashiwazaki Mayor Masazumi Saikawa and Kariwa Mayor Hiroo Shinada asked the government to press Tepco to thoroughly review its checks of the plant, and to temporarily halt the No. 2 and No. 5 reactors, the minister said.

Hiranuma agreed to meet the requests.

To prevent future falsifications, the ministry will set up as early as next week a subcommittee under its advisory panel on nuclear safety and an assessment committee of external experts to review the agency’s investigation into the incident, Hiranuma said.