Monju operator paid ¥109 million in ‘member fees’ to related entities

Kyodo

The state-run operator of the experimental Monju fast-breeder reactor paid ¥109 million in “membership fees” to various bodies in 2009, raising suspicions that taxpayer money is being abused, a ruling party panel said Monday.

The Japan Atomic Energy Agency, which answers to the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry, made the payments between April and September. Some of the entities paid had given former officials of the ministry and agency cozy postretirement jobs.

In fiscal 2009, the agency received around ¥185 billion in state subsidies, some of which came from a tax for financing the development of power resources. The tax is levied on top of household utility bills.

Retired senior bureaucrats often receive highly paid posts at government-affiliated bodies and private-sector firms related to their former areas of supervision under a dubious practice known as “amakudari,” which literally means descent from heaven.

The Democratic Party of Japan’s administrative reform panel found that the atomic energy agency provided the fees 124 times for the purpose of supporting the entities during the reported period.

Among the recipients were the Atomic Energy Welfare Association, which offers welfare services to the officials of the atomic energy agency. It received around ¥4 million a month between April and September 2009.

Also benefitting was the Wakasa Wan Energy Research Center, which conducts research on nuclear power-generation technologies. Wakasa received ¥31.5 million in September that year. A former director general of the science ministry served as an executive at the center.

A panel member said the operator of Monju should have reduced its spending to the minimum, but an official of the agency said it needed to pay the membership fees as part of its operations. The official didn’t elaborate.

In November, the Government Revitalization Unit, a body tasked with screening wasteful spending, proposed a sweeping review of the long-running Monju program, which was designed to develop nuclear fuel recycling technology. The reactor, situated in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, has long been plagued by mishaps, casting doubt on its viability.

Separately, the DPJ panel also found that the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology, which is linked to the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry, similarly offered ¥45.5 million to 41 bodies it supports in fiscal 2010.

Among the 41, an entity promoting information and communications technologies received about ¥5.9 million to cover the personnel costs of seconded workers, the panel said.