JAPAN | N-agency manipulation / Asked Chubu Electric to send staff to influence 2007 meeting

Posted on July 30, 2011

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JAPAN | YOMIURI SHIMBUN | 30 July 2011

The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency asked Chubu Electric Power Co. to have its employees, and employees of affiliated companies, attend a 2007 symposium about a plutonium-thermal power generation project at Chubu Electric’s Hamaoka nuclear power plant, so that attendees would not unanimously oppose the project, the power company said Friday.

The revelation came after Kyushu Electric Power Co. became embroiled in a scandal over its attempts to manipulate public opinion to favor the reactivation of the Nos. 2 and 3 reactors at its Genkai nuclear power plant in Saga Prefecture. Kyushu Electric instructed some of its employees, as well as staff of subsidiaries, to send e-mails supporting the restart of the reactors to an explanatory meeting last month about restarting the reactors.

Chubu Electric said it rejected the agency’s request to have its employees and others ask questions in support of the so-called pluthermal project.

“We didn’t force our employees to express particular opinions,” the company said. However, the latest finding is expected to cause controversy, as the utility’s report presents evidence that the agency, responsible for regulating nuclear power, tried to manipulate public opinion to support the pluthermal project.

In response to the scandal involving Kyushu Electric, the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry asked utilities to investigate whether similar actions had occurred at their companies and report their findings by Friday.

Chubu Electric compiled a report on its internal investigation and reported the results to the ministry Friday.

According to the announcement by Chubu Electric, the agency verbally asked the power company to recruit attendees so that there would not be many vacant seats at the Aug. 26, 2007, symposium. It also asked the power company to prepare a list of questions, and ask local residents to raise them, so that the questions at the symposium would not be dominated by people who opposed the pluthermal project.

Chubu Electric said it asked its employees, staff of affiliated companies and local residents to attend the government-sponsored symposium in Omaezaki, Shizuoka Prefecture. However, it said, “We asked them [to attend] on a voluntary basis and we didn’t use such forceful methods as setting the number of attendees they should recruit or asking them to report on their participation in the symposium.”

The symposium was organized by the nuclear agency, the Natural Resources and Energy Agency and others, and was intended to explain the safety of pluthermal power generation.

In the pluthermal project, mixed oxide (MOX) fuel made of uranium and plutonium that have been extracted from spent nuclear fuel is burned in conventional reactors to generate electricity.

According to Chubu Electric, 524 people participated in the symposium, of whom about 150 people were its employees. The power company said it does not know how many attendees were from its affiliated companies.

At the symposium, people were asked to answer questionnaires concerning the necessity of the pluthermal project. About 80 percent of respondents gave a positive answer such as “I understood [the necessity]” or “I mostly understood.”

“The main purpose of asking people to attend [the symposium] was to make sure there would not be a noticeable number of vacant seats,” Shuichi Terada, chief of Chubu Electric’s legal department, said at a press conference held at the company’s headquarters in Nagoya on Friday.

“There was no intention to make the results of the questionnaires favorable,” Terada said.

Yoshinori Moriyama, the nuclear agency’s deputy director general for nuclear accident measures, said at the press conference: “I don’t recall [the agency making such requests to Chubu Electric]. Something like that must not happen.”

Meanwhile, Shikoku Electric Power Co. said Friday it asked 29 people related to the company to express opinions at a government-sponsored symposium in June 2006 concerning a pluthermal project at the No. 3 reactor of its Ikata nuclear power plant.

Shikoku Electric said the company sent memos to the 29 people asking them to speak up.

Of the 15 people who expressed opinions at the symposium, 10 people were connected to Shikoku Electric, it said. A total of 587 people attended the symposium, of whom 313 were related to Shikoku Electric.

Tokyo Electric Power Co., meanwhile, said the company encouraged its employees and employees of affiliated companies to attend explanatory meetings on the restart of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant and other issues.

TEPCO said it made the request verbally to its employees and by distributing flyers to employees of its affiliated companies. The company said it had not confirmed that it asked people to express particular opinions. Explanatory meetings were held 27 times since 2007, TEPCO said.

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Kaieda apologizes

Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Banri Kaieda on Friday apologized over the revelation that the nuclear safety agency asked Chubu Electric to have its employees and others attend the pluthermal symposium and raise questions in support of the project.

“If the government manipulated opinions, I’m sorry for that,” Kaieda said at the press conference Friday.

Kaieda said the government will set up a third-party committee to thoroughly investigate the matter and compile a report by the end of August.

Concerning the revelation that the agency sided with those promoting nuclear power, Kaieda said, “It’s extremely serious.”

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