Environment Ministry gets nuke role

Kyodo

Prime Minister Naoto Kan and his Cabinet members agreed Friday to set up a new agency in charge of nuclear safety under the Environment Ministry amid the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The accord comes after the government announced last week its plan to create the new entity and said it was considering whether to place the agency under the wing of the Environment Ministry or the Cabinet Office.

The Cabinet Office was dropped as a candidate because of its “ties” with the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which loans officials to the office, according to government sources.

In a bid to undertake a major overhaul of Japan’s nuclear regulatory structure, Kan has been calling to separate the current Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency from METI, which promotes the use of atomic energy.

NISA has been criticized for lax government supervision of nuclear facilities and a slow response to the Fukushima plant crisis, which was triggered by the devastating March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

Debris handling

Legislation enabling the central government to remove and dispose of debris from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami disaster on behalf of afflicted municipalities at their request was enacted Friday, a measure that local-level authorities have repeatedly called for.

Under the special law, the central government will foot an average of 95 percent of the costs, up from the previous upper limit of 90 percent, to expedite clearing of the massive amounts of rubble.

While the local governments are supposed to shoulder the remaining costs, the ruling and opposition camps have agreed to implement tax allocations to ease their burden.

The law stipulates that the state is responsible for outlining procedures for disposing of the debris and drawing up related work schedules.

The central government will also seek cooperation from municipalities less affected by the disaster, and from places not affected at all, in securing land and facilities for storing and processing the cleared debris.

Prior to the new law, it was fundamentally each municipality’s job to handle its own waste-disposal problems.

Mountains of rubble remain in the tsunami-hit areas as many municipalities are stretched beyond capacity in coping with the aftermath of the catastrophe and also due to the lack of funds and facilities to process the vast amount of wreckage.