Industry minister Yukio Edano said Thursday the energy plank in the Liberal Democratic Party’s platform for the upcoming election includes a section that could undermine the independence of the new nuclear regulatory body.
On its pledge to decide whether to restart all of the country’s nuclear reactors within three years, Edano said: “the Nuclear Regulation Authority will make judgments independently from politics. If politicians indicate when to reach a conclusion on resumption, it will contradict the idea of ensuring the body’s independence.”
He said it was the LDP’s idea to give the body independent status in the first place.
The NRA was launched in September after the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe raised questions about the tight relationship between the regulators and the promoters of nuclear power.
The NRA’s predecessor, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, had been under the wing of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which promotes the nuclear industry.
Edano also said the LDP is being vague on energy policy by saying only that it will establish the best combination of various energy sources within 10 years.
“Not explaining and not setting any goals — I can only think that they are running away (from the issue),” he said.
The Democratic Party of Japan-led government decided in September on an energy strategy to enable Japan to break away from nuclear power in the 2030s.
NRA vows independence
Shunichi Tanaka, chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, said that he will maintain the agency’s independence regardless of which political party takes control of the government following the Dec. 16 election.
“Politics change moment to moment . . . but we will maintain our independence by making scientific and professional judgments,” Tanaka said Wednesday.
More than two months after it was established, the NRA invited five experts Wednesday to assess the organization’s activities.
Some of them warned the agency against developing tunnel vision and becoming overly bureaucratic.
“In Japan, organizations do not know how to respond when they face nonconforming elements or when challenged. . . . Unless we change a system that excludes differences, a culture of safety will unlikely be nurtured,” said Yoichi Funabashi, who was involved in establishing a private-sector panel that investigated the Fukushima nuclear crisis.
Kunio Yanagida, a nonfiction writer and member of the government-appointed nuclear accident investigation panel, emphasized the importance of analyzing the details of the cause of the Fukushima disaster.
“Without taking actions based on the lessons learned from the accident, it will be difficult to win trust and convince the public,” he said.
Tetsunari Iida, a well-known proponent of renewable energy, raised questions about the NRA’s decision to allow two reactors at the Oi plant in Fukui Prefecture to continue operating while investigating potentially dangerous faults running beneath the complex.
“If the NRA decides to suspend the reactors for the investigation, it would be one way to restore public confidence,” the executive director of the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies said.