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2014年5月30日 (金)


May 29, 2014
EDITORIAL: Nuclear watchdog must not be made toothless

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has a habit of trying to promote policy changes through political appointments. His administration seems to have employed this political ploy to achieve its goals in the area of nuclear safety inspections.

This is the only possible way to put proposed replacements for two outgoing commissioners of the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) into perspective.

Of the four commissioners working under NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka, Kunihiko Shimazaki and Kenzo Oshima will retire in September when their terms expire.
The administration has decided to replace them with Satoru Tanaka, a professor of nuclear engineering at the University of Tokyo, and Akira Ishiwatari, a professor of geology at Tohoku University. Tanaka is former president of the Atomic Energy Society of Japan, while Ishiwatari is former president of the Geological Society of Japan.

The nominations are expected to be approved by the Diet.

What concerns us most is Shimazaki’s retirement from his post and the selection of Satoru Tanaka as a new commissioner.

Shimazaki, a seismologist, has been strongly criticized by electric utilities and the business community for applying rigorous standards in assessing whether seismic faults near nuclear facilities are active.

But such criticism is unfair because most seismologists agree with his risk assessments. We hope that Ishiwatari, a geologist, will conduct safety inspections from a purely scientific viewpoint.

Satoru Tanaka, who will effectively replace Oshima, a former diplomat, is an engineer who has been promoting nuclear power generation while serving as a member of government advisory panels related to atomic energy, including the Advisory Committee for Natural Resources and Energy of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI).

The Abe administration apparently intends to eventually promote him to the post of NRA chief to succeed Shunichi Tanaka.

Based on the lessons gleaned from the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the NRA was established as a powerful new nuclear safety watchdog that operates independently of METI, a staunch backer of the nuclear power industry. During its first one year and eight months of operation, the body has reasonably performed its role of enforcing strict regulations.

The question is how Satoru Tanaka will contribute to the NRA’s job performance as the nuclear regulator.

There are still many challenges that need to be tackled in continuing moves to reform the nuclear power industry, one of which is the empowerment of the Secretariat of the Nuclear Regulation Authority. The NRA is also tasked with helping local governments struggling to develop workable plans for the evacuation of their communities during nuclear emergencies and changing the mind-set of electric utilities.

The new nuclear safety standards, which were established last year, need to be reviewed constantly to reflect the latest scientific knowledge. The NRA commissioners have very important roles to play in all these efforts.

Even after the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, Satoru Tanaka has consistently argued that nuclear power generation is necessary technology.

In its final report, the accident investigative committee of the Atomic Energy Society of Japan, led by Tanaka, cited the “lack of sufficient understanding among the experts concerning the roles that they have to perform” and the “lack of sufficient attention to safety among the regulatory authorities.” The report was compiled only through internal discussions within the society, which has been often criticized for its closed nature.

Can Satoru Tanaka serve as a fair and unbiased nuclear regulator? Can he do his job purely from the viewpoint of safety, based on soul searching as a specialist of nuclear technology in the face of the Fukushima nuclear disaster? Can he carry out his job as a regulator independently of his personal belief that nuclear power generation and the program to establish a nuclear fuel recycling system should be promoted?

If he can’t, he is not qualified to sit on the NRA.

The terms of the remaining two commissioners will expire next year and the tenure of the chairman will come to an end in 2017.

The government should not be allowed to make the nuclear watchdog toothless by nominating experts who are convenient to it and the industry.

--The Asahi Shimbun, May 29


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