JAPAN | METI tried to gain influence over Fukushima panel

Posted on June 11, 2011

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JAPAN | ASAHI SHIMBUN | June 11, 2011

A push by bureaucrats associated with the nuclear industry to increase their influence over the government-appointed panel investigating the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant was rebuffed by Prime Minister Naoto Kan.

The Kan Cabinet decided May 24 to establish the panel to investigate the nuclear disaster and placed it under the Cabinet Secretariat. That decision limited the influence of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), which oversees nuclear policy and Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the operator of the Fukushima No. 1 plant.

But, on June 6, the nuclear establishment pushed back. The National Policy Unit, which is part of the Cabinet Secretariat but is made up of bureaucrats from the various central government ministries, produced a document titled “Regarding a revolutionary energy and environment strategy.”

The unit, which is heavily influenced by METI officials when considering matters related to energy policy, proposed placing the accident panel as well as the Japan Atomic Energy Commission under the guidance of an energy and environment committee to be established under the Council on the Realization of the New Growth Strategy.

The National Policy Unit would serve as the secretariat for the committee and Banri Kaieda, the METI minister, would be the committee’s deputy chairman. Masayuki Naoshima, a former METI minister, and Yosuke Kondo, a former vice minister at METI, would sit on it and METI officials would be dispatched to work for its secretariat.

Kan discussed the proposal with Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano and others on June 7 and agreed to reject the proposal.

In a June 7 document distributed by the Council on the Realization of the New Growth Strategy, all references to the accident panel were deleted and the names of Naoshima and Kondo were removed from the energy and environment committee that was established that day.

The document also stated that a new committee would be established to look into whether the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency should be separated from METI.

The document said discussions within the new committee looking into separating NISA should take into consideration the results of an assessment of the assets and financial condition of TEPCO to be conducted by a separate committee looking into TEPCO’s management and financial condition.

The decision by Kan to reject the National Policy Unit proposal may only be a temporary setback for METI.

In the rush to establish the panel, its legal status was left ambiguous. No legislation passed to establish it as an independent body.

That leaves open the possibility of METI officials renewing their push for control of the panel. With Kan expected to step down in the near future, the energy mandarins may still have their way.

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