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Saturday, Sep. 8, 2012
Questionable start for NRC
The government and the Democratic Party of Japan have decided to let Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda appoint the five members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission without the consent of the Diet.
This unusual way of appointing the NRC members will only deepen the public's distrust of the nation's regulatory control of nuclear power generation and the power industry.
The government and the DPJ have resorted to a supplementary clause of the law to establish the NRC. The clause allows the prime minister to appoint the NRC members and to skip the Diet's approval if he cannot get Diet approval because the Diet is out of session or because the Lower House has been dissolved.
The government and the DPJ were able to accomplish this by taking advantage of the paralysis of the Diet following the passing on Aug. 29 of a censure motion against Mr. Noda by the opposition-controlled Upper House. The ruling party's calculated Diet behavior prompted the opposition's action.
It is regrettable that the government and the Diet did not hold sufficient discussions on the qualifications and professional abilities of the five NRC members. They have failed to disclose detailed information concerning the expertise of the five members and what they have done in their professional careers.
It also must not be forgotten that the government and the DPJ leadership delayed the Diet process to approve the appointment of the NRC members because some DPJ Diet members as well as opposition Diet members opposed the government's selection of the NRC members on the grounds that some of them are close to the nuclear power establishment.
The government selected Mr. Shunichi Tanaka, an expert on radiation containment and former acting head of the Atomic Energy Commission, as the NRC head. The four other NRC members are Mr. Kunihiko Shimazaki, head of the Coordination Committee for Earthquake Prediction; Mr. Kenzo Oshima, former ambassador to the United Nations; Ms. Kayoko Nakamura, an official at the Japan Radioisotope Association and Mr. Toyoshi Fuketa, an official at the Japan Atomic Energy Agency.
Mr. Tanaka, Ms. Nakamura and Mr. Fuketa are clearly members of the nuclear power establishment, and the government has failed to fully explain how they can contribute to the improvement of nuclear regulatory administration.
Mr. Tanaka, who served as head of the Atomic Society of Japan, was in a position to push Japan's nuclear power policy. Mr. Fuketa is an expert on the study of nuclear safety, including the study of severe nuclear accidents.
But the JAEA owns the Monju fast-breeder reactor, whose safety is questionable, and is promoting the nuclear fuel cycle.
Given the irregular way in which the NRC members were appointed, it will be very difficult for the NRC to gain the public's trust. Toward this end, the NRC should at least uphold the principle of decommissioning nuclear power plants that are 40 years old or older and strictly enforce safety standards based on the latest knowledge, even if this means bringing nuclear reactors offline.