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Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Nuclear laws have serious flaws
The Diet on June 20 enacted a law to establish a nuclear regulatory commission. If the new body is established, it will end the current system, in which the authorities promoting nuclear power generation and the authorities regulating it are virtually integrated in the form of the trade and industry's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency. The Nuclear Safety Commission of the Cabinet Office, which proved to be almost useless in advising the government during the darkest days of the Fukushima nuclear crisis, will also be abolished. But the law contains problematic clauses that could overshadow efforts to ensure the safety of reactors and uphold Japan's principle of limiting the use of nuclear power to non-military purposes.
The original bill included a clause that the life span of a reactor will be limited to 40 years in principle, and that in exceptional cases it may be extended once for a total of 60 years. But in consultations among the Democratic Party of Japan, the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito, it was agreed that a new five-member regulatory commission will be empowered to review the 40-year principle. If the commission members have close ties to the nuclear power establishment, they could emasculate the 40-year principle, thus hampering efforts to end Japan's reliance on nuclear power. It must be remembered that the No. 1 reactor of the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant was more than 40 years old, and in fact had been scheduled to be shuttered, but an extension was granted in the weeks before the earthquake and tsunami struck.
The Diet must approve the appointments of the commission members. It is vital that the government appoints members who have no ties with the nuclear establishment. Any efforts by the establishment to influence the appointments must be stopped.
Another problem with the law is the presence of a clause stating that the safety of nuclear power must also be ensured for the sake of the "security" of the nation. A similar clause was inserted into the Atomic Energy Basic Act, which takes precedence over the newly enacted law. In the Diet, it was explained that the clause was inserted because the new commission will do the work related to the International Atomic Energy Agency's safeguard measures. But the use of the word "security" leaves room for stretching the meaning of the clause, thus theoretically leaving the possibility of allowing Japan to use nuclear power for military purposes. The insertion of the clause was carried out in near-secrecy. The law should be revised to rule out any possibility of using nuclear power for military purposes.