The government on Tuesday said it has nominated Toyoshi Fuketa, a commissioner of the country’s nuclear watchdog, to take the top post at the regulator, in the first change of leadership since it was revamped after the Fukushima disaster.
Fuketa, 59, was named to replace Shunichi Tanaka, 72, as the chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), who is retiring in September, a parliamentary official said by phone. Fuketa’s appointment requires confirmation by lawmakers.
His nomination comes six years after the meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear station, operated by Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc., which led to a revision of atomic regulations, after an official inquiry into the disaster highlighted collusion between regulators and industry.
Fuketa was appointed as a commissioner of the NRA in 2012 when the body was set up to enforce new nuclear safety rules. He is known for taking tough positions during safety reviews of reactors and has been instrumental in directing the cleanup of the wrecked Fukushima plant.
“Fuketa has a long background in research on reactor safety and replaces a figure (Tanaka) who was not seen as impartial, at least in some circles,” said Andrew DeWit, a professor at Rikkyo University in Tokyo focusing on energy issues.
“His appointment and international connections may help to overcome the industry’s reluctance to adopt some internationally recognized safety practices,” he said.
These include surprise inspections of nuclear plants and storage of spent uranium fuel in dry casks, rather than high up in reactor buildings as is mostly the case in Japan now.
An International Atomic Energy Agency review of Japan’s regulatory framework last year made 26 suggestions and recommendations to address shortcomings, while citing only two examples of good practice.
Many of Japan’s reactors are still going through a licensing renewal process by the new regulator, with all but three out of 42 operable reactors still in shutdown.
Fuketa has sometimes poured cold water on the schedule for the early restart of reactors, saying the projections of operators were too optimistic.
The government also nominated Shinsuke Yamanaka, 61, executive vice president of Osaka University, to replace Fuketa, the parliamentary official added.
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