JAPAN | Industry minister sacks 3 top officials to end cozy ties over nuclear power policy

Posted on August 4, 2011

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JAPAN | MAINICHI | 4 August 2011

The symposium on a

Industry minister Banri Kaieda, under pressure to put an end to cozy ties between government regulators and utilities over Japan’s nuclear power policy, announced on Aug. 4 plans to sack three high-ranking officials in charge of nuclear policy.

The government is also considering separating the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) in an attempt to restructure METI through a virtual total overhaul.

The three officials facing the axe are METI Administrative Vice Minister Kazuo Matsunaga, NISA Director General Nobuaki Terasaka and Tetsuhiro Hosono, director general of the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy.

The crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant triggered by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami destroyed the safety myth about nuclear energy and METI came under fire for its handling of the nuclear disaster.

Revelations of NISA’s alleged efforts to stage questions in symposiums on Japan’s nuclear energy policy represented a damaging blow to METI as well as to its two nuclear-related umbrella entities — NISA and the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy.

METI Minister Kaieda is looking into the staging scandal in which METI and its entire organization are alleged to have been systematically involved. “METI’s trust was lost,” a government official said.

Japan's Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Banri Kaieda speaks during a budget committee meeting at the upper house of the Diet in Tokyo on Thursday, July 7, 2011. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

Japan’s Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Banri Kaieda speaks during a budget committee meeting at the upper house of the Diet in Tokyo on Thursday, July 7, 2011. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

Behind the planned personnel shakeup and the scandal are a deepening rift between Prime Minister Naoto Kan and his team and METI.

Kan has made clear his policy to lessen Japan’s dependence on nuclear energy and he harbors strong distrust of METI. He issued a rare instruction to METI to release all data about in-house and underground power generation, saying METI is trying to cover up data disadvantageous to itself.

Although Kaieda said that he personally decided to sack the three top officials, there is a possibility that the decision reflects Kan’s desires.

The Kan government hopes to accelerate its moves to drastically review the nation’s nuclear power policy and lower Japan’s reliance on nuclear energy. But a senior METI official said the ministry cannot do anything under the leadership of Kan, who has expressed his intention to resign without mentioning any timeline.

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