Three foreign nuclear luminaries shared their expertise for the first time with the commissioners of Japan’s new atomic watchdog Friday, stressing the importance of ensuring its independence while underscoring openness and transparency to bolster the regulatory framework.
The Nuclear Regulation Authority, which was launched in September, has appointed three international advisers to tap their perspectives: Richard Meserve, former chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission; Andre-Claude Lacoste, who headed the French Nuclear Safety Authority; and Mike Weightman, executive head of Britain’s Office of Nuclear Regulation.
“I recognize the very great challenge that confronts you. You’re an organization that needs to create itself” from scratch, Meserve told the NRA commissioners in Tokyo, referring to last year’s triple meltdowns in Fukushima that shattered the public’s trust in the nuclear regulatory regime.
The NRA’s predecessor, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, was under the jurisdiction of the industry ministry, whose job was to promote the growth and expansion of nuclear energy domestically. After the disaster hit the Fukushima No. 1 plant, NISA was slammed for its failure to regulate the atomic energy industry strictly enough — especially over the lack of safety measures — due to its cozy ties with the nine regional utilities that operate Japan’s nuclear plants.
During Friday’s two-hour meeting, Meserve, Lacoste and Weightman agreed that independence is paramount for a nuclear regulatory body, but added it’s also essential that the regulators not become “isolated.” Refusing to communicate sufficiently with plant operators would be highly counterproductive, the three experts warned, even though the public is keeping a close eye on the NRA’s relationship with power companies.
“Consultation is appropriate. In fact, in some areas it is essential,” Meserve stressed.
According to Weightman, communicating with utilities is also crucial in implementing effective regulations for the industry. However, he advised the commissioners to make sure they maintain a high level of openness and transparency during this process, so the public can clearly follow and understand the NRA’s decisions and be allowed to judge to what extent they have been influenced by plant operators.
While not downplaying the NRA’s critical role, Lacoste also said operators of atomic plants should develop a stronger sense of responsibility so they start making greater efforts to improve safety. Until now, he noted, utilities have regarded their role as limited to simply following safety regulations, rather than taking the initiative and leading efforts to improve and introduce superior measures.