NISA helm change; Kaieda says it's high time to 'build a new ministry'

Nuclear policy trio face ax

by Masami Ito

Staff Writer

Industry minister Banri Kaieda announced Thursday he is firing three senior nuclear officials over the mishandling of the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

The three are Vice Minister Kazuo Matsunaga, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry’s top bureaucrat; Nobuaki Terasaka, head of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency; and Tetsuhiro Hosono, head of the Natural Resources and Energy Agency. Matsunaga will be replaced by Kenyu Adachi, chief of the ministry’s Economic and Industrial Policy Bureau, METI said.

“I have been thinking about the need to reshuffle personnel for about a month,” Kaieda told a hastily called news conference. “I would like the new people to build a new Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.”

Kaieda did not elaborate on why the firings are necessary at this time, but METI has been under attack for its slow response to the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant accident and for poor handling of the electricity shortage.

Most recently, it was revealed that NISA, the nuclear watchdog, asked utilities to stage supportive questions at a METI-hosted symposium on the controversial use of plutonium-uranium mixed oxide (MOX) fuel in an apparent attempt to manipulate public opinion in favor of nuclear power.

Kaieda, whose ministry oversees energy policy, has already indicated his intention to resign at some point to take responsibility for muddled decision-making on restarting nuclear reactors, but did not make clear Thursday his position on when he will step aside. “I will decide for myself,” he said.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who decided to shift national energy policy away from relying on atomic energy since the Fukushima accident, has been expressing distrust toward METI as well and approved Kaieda’s decision, according to Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano.

The timing of the firings was not disclosed.

In May, Edano announced the government was putting a freeze on personnel changes involving ranking officials in all ministries while dealing with the unprecedented March natural disaster.

“I said the personnel freeze was in principle,” Edano said.