More than a month has passed since the Nuclear Regulatory Authority was inaugurated on Sept. 19. The NRA started in a deplorable manner. In a political maneuver, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda used a provision of the relevant law and appointed the five commission members without Diet approval.
Given the suspicions the public harbors toward the NRA due to the way in which its members were appointed, it is imperative it strictly oversee matters related to nuclear power generation free from the influence of politicians, government ministries and agencies, and the power industry. But the staffing of the NRA’s secretariat, the Nuclear Regulatory Agency — which is composed of up to 473 officials and workers — raises concerns because many of its high-ranking officials used to work for government ministries and agencies that promoted nuclear power.
The agency’s chief to cope with emergencies at nuclear power plants was formerly a councillor at the ministry of trade and industry. While he was head of the nuclear policy section of the ministry’s Natural Resources and Energy Agency in 2004, he calculated the cost of underground disposal of spent nuclear fuel, but then denied the existence of the calculation before the Diet. For this he was disciplined.
The agency’s deputy head is from the Environment Agency, which pushed nuclear power generation as a means of combating global warming. The agency head and the agency’s chief for the safety of local areas near nuclear power plants in the event of a disaster were selected from the Metropolitan Police Department because it is hoped that they will be adept at crisis management.
Of the three councillors at the agency, one worked for the atomic energy bureau of the now-defunct Science and Technology Agency, another served as head of a section of the Natural Resources and Energy Agency, whose task was to insist that nuclear power plants were safe in lawsuits filed by local residents, and still another was with the trade and industry ministry’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency and dealt with the Fukushima nuclear crisis as safety chief. In June 2012, the last official apologized in a news conference for the government’s failure to distribute maps displaying the dispersion of radioactive substances to evacuating residents.
Given the NRA’s vital tasks, which include writing new post-Fukushima standards for nuclear power plants, examining suspected geological faults near or inside nuclear power plants sites, working out safety measures for local residents in the event of a severe nuclear accident, and judging whether to allow nuclear plants to remain in operation for an additional 20 years once they have reached the end of their standard 40-year operational life, it must ensure its operation and decisions are transparent.
The NRA on Sept. 26 excluded reporters from the Japan Communist Party newspaper Akahata from its news conference on the grounds that it is a party organ and its reporting has a specific bias. It later changed its reason for excluding Akahata, and then eventually decided on Oct. 2 to accept Akahata. This kind of behavior only deepens suspicions about its integrity.