Volcanologists on NRA panel accepted donations from utility-linked firms

Kyodo

Two volcanologists tasked with advising on whether nuclear reactors should be halted due to nearby volcanic activity have received ¥8.1 million ($71,000) in donations from utility-linked companies, documents have shown.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority appointed the two, both from Kagoshima University, as part of a six-member panel to check for signs of a major volcanic eruption near Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai plant, which is located in a volcanically active region in Japan’s southwest.

The revelation that professor emeritus Tetsuo Kobayashi and professor Hiroki Miyamachi received funds from affiliates of nuclear power plant operators, including Kyushu Electric, may raise suspicions about the panel’s decisions, critics said.

The two volcanologists told Kyodo News they received the donations for academic activities at the university, denying that the funds influenced their judgment. An NRA official said it was aware of the donations and they did not pose any problems.

According to documents disclosed by Kagoshima University, Kobayashi received a total of ¥3.1 million from Newjec Inc., an Osaka-based engineering consulting company linked to Kansai Electric Power Co., from fiscal 2010 to 2014.

Miyamachi obtained a total of ¥5 million from West Japan Engineering Consultants Inc., a Fukuoka-based company linked to Kyushu Electric, from fiscal 2013 to 2015.

The Sendai plant in Kagoshima Prefecture was the first nuclear complex to be reactivated in Japan after clearing the country’s revamped safety regulations introduced in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The Sendai No. 1 and No. 2 reactors resumed operations last August and October, respectively.

In restarting the plant, Kyushu Electric pledged to monitor signs of major volcanic eruptions, although it said the possibility was “adequately low.”

The NRA set up a panel to assess data from monitoring and selected six members last year. Of the four members who have the right to vote, only Kobayashi and Miyamachi have received donations linked to nuclear power plant operators.

The panel is tasked with advising the NRA on whether to issue an order to halt the reactors if there is a possibility of a major volcanic eruption.