Neglect of nuclear regulation

The Nuclear Regulatory Agency was originally scheduled to be set up on April 1. Although the Noda Cabinet endorsed a bill to establish the agency on Jan. 31 and send it to the Diet that day, the Diet has yet to start deliberating on it. The legislature should be strongly censured for its neglect.

The crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant has underlined the irresponsible nature of Japan’s nuclear regulatory administration. In the Fukushima crisis, the plant’s Nos. 1, 2 and 3 reactors suffered meltdowns. Symbolic is the fact that the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) is part of the trade and industry ministry, which is a promoter of nuclear power.

Under the bill, NISA and the Nuclear Safety Commission would be reorganized into the Nuclear Regulatory Agency to be established as an extra-ministerial bureau of the Environment Agency. The environment minister would appoint the planned agency’s head and entrust the power to carry out regulatory work to the him or her. The government should strive to hire knowledgeable and conscientious people for the agency’s 485 posts.

The Diet could not quickly start deliberations on the bill because the ruling and opposition blocs were unable to agree on the question of which Diet committee should handle it. It is highly regrettable that they lost precious time arguing over this.

Once they start deliberations on the bill, the ruling and opposition parties should sufficiently discuss the bill so that Japan will have an effective mechanism to control nuclear power plants and enhance their safety, repelling any attempt by the nuclear power establishment to interfere with or weaken efforts to improve nuclear power safety.

To strengthen the independence of nuclear regulatory authorities, the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito have submitted to the Diet a proposal to establish a five-member Nuclear Regulatory Commission overseeing some 500 personnel, with the Diet’s approval required for the appointment of the commission head and members.

If necessary, the government and the ruling Democratic Party of Japan should be ready to agree to modify the bill to strengthen the independence of the planned nuclear regulatory authorities and to ensure the transparency of all decision-making processes. To help gain the public’s trust, they should also be required to make public the minutes of their meetings.