JAPAN | Revelations about staging illustrate collusive ties between gov’t and power companies

Posted on July 30, 2011

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JAPAN | MAINICHI | 30 July 2011

Two electric power companies’ revelations that the government’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) asked them to stage questions in symposia on nuclear energy policy have demonstrated the collusive relationship between NISA and the nuclear power industry.

Power suppliers and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), NISA’s parent body, have until now both said their briefing sessions and symposia on nuclear power policy for the public have been held in a fair and just manner. They never breathed a word about insiders being sent to fill seats or pose questions that were neutral or in favor of nuclear power generation.

It makes the revelations that NISA, which is supposed to strictly regulate nuclear power generation for safety reasons, may have actively promoting nuclear power all the more shocking.

“The public’s confidence in us has been badly damaged. It’s a fateful crisis for not only NISA but the ministry as a whole,” says a high-ranking METI official.

METI’s influence on overall energy policy has declined considerably since the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant crisis began in March, with Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s announcement that Japan should eliminate its dependency on nuclear power plants. The administration even made Chubu Electric Power Co. stop operations at Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant in Shizuoka Prefecture, and a restart to other power plants is being delayed. According to an industry insider, the power industry is fed up with METI’s inability to stand up for them against the government.

Furthermore, industry sources believe that the two power suppliers — Chubu and Shikoku electric power — felt forced to reveal that NISA had asked them to stage symposia. They have faced in-house investigations after the recent scandal in which Kyushu Electric Power Co. attempted to manipulate public opinion in favor of a restart of their Genkai Nuclear Power Plant, and insiders say the power companies felt that if they were to release false reports and try to cover for NISA now, they could be exposed down the road and take a fatal blow.

“We can’t make any foolish cover ups of information,” said to an official with an electric power company in western Japan.

Critics have pointed out that it is unreasonable for the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy that promotes nuclear energy policy and NISA, which is to regulate nuclear power stations, to coexist under the umbrella of METI.

Following the Fukushima nuclear crisis, the government decided to split NISA from METI and merge it with the Cabinet Office’s Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan, and the latest revelations have certainly dealt a further blow to NISA.

The public’s distrust in the government’s nuclear power policy is only growing, and this new scandal will surely affect the issue of resuming operations at nuclear power plants suspended for regular safety inspections. (By Seiya Tateyama, Tokyo Economic News Department)

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