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Prime Minister Naoto Kan is looking into the feasibility of separating the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, according to government sources.

METI has long actively promoted nuclear power, which critics say compromises the NISA’s role of ensuring safety in the industry.

Kan’s review of how the government handles nuclear energy comes as Japan is living through its worst-ever nuclear energy crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant.

The agency, established as a special entity of the METI-affiliated Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, is responsible for ensuring the safety of nuclear plants. The Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan, institutionalized under the Cabinet Office, is designed to double-check the agency’s steps.

In reality, though, the commission merely echoes what the agency decides, according to government officials.

Regional governments hosting nuclear plants have been calling for years for the agency to be independent from the ministry to effectively ensure safety of the facilities.

Likewise, Mizuho Fukushima, head of the Social Democratic Party, said in a news conference that she met with Kan and stressed to him her party’s long-standing position that the agency must be severed from the ministry.

She said Kan told her the matter should be discussed after the Fukushima crisis is brought under control.

The Democratic Party of Japan, in policies unveiled in 2009, said it was seeking a drastic overhaul of the country’s disaster preparedness as well as the creation of a scrupulously independent panel in charge of safety regulations.

Separately, Kan said Thursday he is considering a fundamental change in the government’s energy policy, which at present features plans to add at least 14 more nuclear reactors by 2030 to the 54 in operation before March 11.

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