Sunday, August 7, 2011

Regain public trust with unified N-safety body

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Following the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, the government has compiled and released a draft plan on reorganization of the bodies that regulate nuclear safety.

The draft plan calls for the separation of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) from the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry, which promotes nuclear power generation. Under the plan, the agency would be integrated with the Nuclear Safety Commission of the Cabinet Office to establish a new nuclear safety agency.

Other government offices related to nuclear safety regulation would be unified under the envisaged nuclear safety agency. They now come under different ministries such as the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry. In this way, the government intends to reform its regulatory systems on nuclear safety.

The current regulatory systems failed to prevent the crisis at the Fukushima plant, and responses to it were delayed. The envisaged safety agency must ensure thorough safety measures and gain public trust.

The proposed separation of the agency from METI is a matter of course.


Independence the norm

In most nations, the independence of regulatory organs is an ironclad rule taken for granted. The International Atomic Energy Agency had pointed out that Japan must address this issue.

It has been recently learned that despite being a regulatory organ, the agency asked power companies to see that more opinions favoring nuclear power were expressed at explanatory public meetings.

The subsequent decision to dismiss METI officials, including a vice minister and the head of the agency, will not alone eliminate public distrust.

A key issue is where the safety agency should be placed in the government structure. The draft plan referred both to the Cabinet Office and the Environment Ministry as possible entities under which the new agency could be placed.

Both the Cabinet Office and the ministry were suggested because opinion was divided within the Cabinet over which of the two would better serve to make the new agency completely neutral and ensure that it effectively exercises its regulatory functions.

If the agency were placed under the Cabinet Office, it would be necessary to dedicate a cabinet minister solely to heading the agency. The minister should not also be in charge of other policy areas such as measures to combat the declining birthrate and disaster management.

The Environment Ministry has made certain achievements in regulation of industrial activities. But it is also known to have promoted nuclear power, which emits little greenhouse gas, for the sake of arresting global warming.


'Not an issue for Kan'

The draft plan is set to be given Cabinet approval soon. But some argue that it is not appropriate for the administration of Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who is expected to resign soon, to decide on the issue. We hope the plan will be thoroughly discussed so there will be no problems in the future.

Nurturing knowledgeable and highly qualified specialists also is mentioned in the draft plan as an issue to be addressed. This surely is an essential issue, but it is questionable whether the government could attract the best and brightest while arguments are being made over abandoning nuclear power or reducing dependence on it.

Unlike the United States and Europe, laws related to nuclear regulations in this nation are not based on the assumption that severe accidents could occur. This point needs to be drastically reviewed, too.

The government plans to launch a safety agency in April. There will not be much time to devise related bills and submit them for Diet deliberations.

Discussions on these matters, including the issue of how to steer the nation's nuclear policy, should be expedited.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 6, 2011)

(Aug. 7, 2011)

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