Diet finally discusses new nuclear regulator

Kyodo

Diet deliberations on bills to create a new nuclear regulatory agency started Tuesday, with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda stressing the need to swiftly launch the body to address public anxiety stirred by the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The start of deliberations represents a step forward in establishing the new body, which has been delayed because of objections from opposition parties. The government had wanted to establish it by April 1.

Put on the table are bills submitted by the government as well as a counterproposal presented by the Liberal Democratic Party, the main opposition force, and its ally, New Komeito.

Both sides are seeking to create a new agency under the Environment Ministry amid criticism that the existing Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency was insufficiently vigilant because it is under the umbrella of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, a promoter of nuclear power.

The opposition parties propose putting the new agency under the control of a “nuclear regulatory commission” with legally guaranteed independence. The commission, consisting of five members with nuclear safety expertise, would have the right to decide on the agency’s personnel and budget matters.

Under the government plan, the environment minister would handle such issues.

Speaking at a plenary session of the Lower House, Noda said, “There is an urgent need to prepare a new regulation system and disaster-prevention scheme under a new organization to respond to people’s concerns.”

Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura expressed hope that the ruling and opposition parties will reach a compromise on the issue, telling a news conference earlier in the day that the two sides have a shared awareness of the need to launch the organization as soon as possible.

The LDP has said it will boycott Diet deliberations unless Noda replaces two Cabinet ministers, Naoki Tanaka of defense and Takeshi Maeda of transportation, both of whom were censured in April by the Upper House.

The LDP, however, made an exception over discussions related to the nuclear regulatory agency as the public is very critical of the delay in its launch, which is affecting discussions on whether to restart nuclear reactors.

All reactors have gone offline following the start last year of the Fukushima nuclear crisis.