The Nuclear Regulation Authority has sacked a senior official in its secretariat for leaking information to a nuclear power plant operator that could undermine the new watchdog’s obligation to act in a transparent and neutral manner, its officials said.
The NRA said the official, Tetsuo Nayuki, 54, on Jan. 22 handed Japan Atomic Power Co. a draft assessment report on geologic faults running beneath its Tsuruga nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture — just about a week before it was due to be made public by a panel appointed by the regulator.
“It is extremely regrettable that a senior official did such a thing. It was a thoughtless act, because we should be especially careful when having contact with parties subject to regulations and should be transparent in the exchanges,” NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka was quoted as saying by the nuclear watchdog’s spokesman, Hideka Morimoto.
The NRA said the leaked information was not necessarily confidential because it was a summary of discussions that were open to the public, but the incident is still a blow to the NRA, which was set up to restore trust in the nation’s nuclear regulators that was wiped out by the Fukushima disaster.
Launched last September, the NRA was endowed with greater independence than the now-defunct Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency to prevent cozy ties from persisting between the atomic energy industry and its regulators — one of the main reasons that safety was neglected in the leadup to the 2011 meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 plant.
To ensure transparency, the NRA does not allow its employees to meet on their own with nuclear power station officials unless it’s an emergency. But Nayuki sat down alone with Japan Atomic Power’s representatives and “carelessly” handed over the report, Morimoto said.
Nayuki reported the incident himself the next day.
The draft report, officially disclosed Monday, said that a fault directly beneath a nuclear reactor at the Tsuruga power station is likely active — a judgment that could force Japan Atomic Power to scrap the unit and possibly the entire complex.
Japan Atomic Power, which insists there is no such fault, said at a separate news conference Friday that it is eager to speak with the panel handling the issue before the report is finalized.
“We told (Nayuki) on Dec. 21 that if we are given a chance to express our opinions about the draft report during the panel meeting, we want to learn the content in advance so we can instantly make an accurate counterargument,” a Japan Atomic Power official said.
Both NRA spokesman Morimoto and Japan Atomic Power denied that Nayuki received any financial reward or gifts in exchange for the draft report. The plant operator also said that no lobbying took place based on the information it obtained.
The panel basically agreed on the content of the draft Monday, though it has not been finalized as its members also decided to first consult outside experts and Japan Atomic Power.
Effective Friday, the NRA reprimanded Nayuki and transferred him to the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry, where he worked before being transferred to the nuclear watchdog.