JAPAN | Shikoku utility also urged to sway N-meet

Posted on July 31, 2011

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JAPAN | YOMIURI SHIMBUN | 31 July 2011

Shikoku Electric Power Co. has become the second utility to admit it was asked by the government’s nuclear safety agency to sway opinion at public meetings on “pluthermal” nuclear power generation, a revelation that raises further questions about the watchdog’s impartiality.

Shikoku Electric’s announcement Friday came soon after Chubu Electric Power Co. said it also had been urged by the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency to send staff to speak in favor of nuclear power at a 2007 symposium.

To prevent the explanatory meetings from being dominated by opponents to the plutonium-thermal power generation project, the agency asked Shikoku Electric to stack the audience with as many participants as possible to “create active discussion,” the utility said.

The revelations mean the agency, which is supposed to be a neutral watchdog that regulates nuclear facility safety, repeatedly leaned on electricity firms to help give the appearance that pluthermal projects were widely supported by the public, analysts said.

Pluthermal power generation, the use of plutonium-uranium mixed oxide extracted from spent nuclear fuel in commercial reactors, is an important pillar of Japan’s nuclear fuel reprocessing program.

Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Banri Kaieda apologized for the latest revelations.

“The situation is extremely serious,” Kaieda said at a press conference. “If it’s true that the state has maneuvered to inflate certain opinions, I am truly sorry for that.”

Asked by a reporter what impact the incidents would have on prospects for resuming nuclear reactors currently halted after regular safety inspections, Kaieda said, “It can hardly be said this revelation will have no adverse impact on that.”

The industry ministry will set up a third-party panel to investigate the alleged attempts to misrepresent public backing for nuclear power generation. The panel will compile a report by the end of August, Kaieda said.

According to Shikoku Electric, the incident involved a government-sponsored symposium in June 2006 in Ikatacho, Ehime Prefecture, on the project to launch pluthermal nuclear power generation at the firm’s Ikata power plant.

Before the symposium, the agency asked the utility to make sure there were not too many empty seats and to have comments from the floor “to ensure in-depth discussions,” the utility said.

In response to this request, Shikoku Electric asked several regional organizations to attend the forum, it said.

The utility also encouraged 29 workers from its contractors to express their views at the symposium and provided examples of what they should say. “Let’s wipe out nuclear power’s negative image” was one suggested comment, according to the company.

Ten of the 15 people who spoke at the symposium were there at the request of Shikoku Electric, it said.

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