JAPAN | Kaieda sacks 3 key officials over nuclear crisis, scandal

Posted on August 4, 2011

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JAPAN | ASAHI SHIMBUN | 4 August 2011

Trade and industry minister Banri Kaieda announced Aug. 4 he is dismissing three of his top bureaucrats. The move is apparently meant to hold them accountable for mishandling the nuclear disaster and a scandal that surfaced later.

Kaieda held an extraordinary news conference to announce that he will replace Kazuo Matsunaga, 59, as vice minister of economy, trade and industry; Nobuaki Terasaka, 58, as director-general of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA); and Tetsuhiro Hosono, 58, as director-general of the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy.

Proponents of nuclear policy and power industry reforms will almost certainly be named successors.

Kaieda held the three officials responsible for the way the crisis was handled at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami and for trying to manipulate public opinion in favor of nuclear power at state-sponsored symposiums.

The three officials will likely be replaced after the Bon holiday season in mid-August, around the same time that the Kan administration expects the Diet to pass a special measures bill on renewable energy.

Kaieda had said earlier that he would step down as industry minister. When asked if his resignation would coincide with the personnel replacements, Kaieda said, “That is not the case.”

He was also asked during the news conference if the replacements would target Matsunaga, Terasaka and Hosono.

Kaieda replied: “You may assume so.”

He cited “reshuffling of personnel and sentiment” as the objective.

“The reshuffle will be very large. I thought I needed new officials to help put the industry ministry back on its feet,” Kaieda said.

He said he began to embrace the plan about a month ago and then notified the relevant clerical sections in his ministry of his decision.

Kaieda said he notified Kan on the changes on Aug. 2.

“I have the power over personnel issues,” he said, emphasizing that he, not Kan, took the initiative in this case.

The industry ministry has been plagued by a number of problems in recent months; for example, inadequate tsunami countermeasures as highlighted by the nuclear plant accident, a scandal over an extramarital affair involving a senior official, suspected insider stock trading involving another senior official, and the NISA’s manipulation of public opinion in favor of nuclear power.

The ministry faced mounting distrust within the prime minister’s office as well as with the general public.

Kan has deep-rooted distrust of the industry ministry, which allied itself with the power industry to promote the use of nuclear power. Kan apparently hopes that the replacement of the three top officials will give momentum to moves to reform regional monopolies by power companies and realign nuclear power regulatory bodies.

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