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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Utility says NISA sought 'plants' to talk up MOX bid


Staff writer

Chubu Electric Power Co. said Friday it was asked by the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency to set up supportive or neutral questions from the audience at a 2007 symposium about a plan to use a controversial fuel mix at the Hamaoka nuclear plant.

According to Chubu Electric, NISA orally requested that it draft such questions and give them to people who would attend the symposium to make sure not all the questions would be against the use of plutonium-uranium mixed oxide (MOX) fuel.

MOX fuel, used in "pluthermal" power generation, is created from spent nuclear fuel and uranium. In 2005, Chubu Electric had announced plans to introduce the pluthermal system in reactor 4 at the Hamaoka plant in Shizuoka Prefecture.

Although the utility drafted the questions, it eventually decided not to set up someone to ask the planted questions because it would have been problematic in terms of compliance.

"I think this is a really serious problem," Banri Kaieda, who as industry minister oversees NISA, told a news conference. "If the government really made such a request, I am deeply sorry."

Kaieda said a third-party panel will determine by the end of August what really happened.

Asked why the regulatory body would commit an act that appears to promote a nuclear policy, Kaieda expressed confusion and said, "I am also wondering why it was NISA."

The symposium was hosted by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and NISA in August 2007 in Shizuoka Prefecture to explain the need for the pluthermal plan.

The attempted setup by NISA was indicated in a report that Chubu Electric submitted to METI, which had ordered utilities to come up with reports on whether they asked their employees or others to ask planted questions in government-hosted events. The order came down after it was recently revealed that Kyushu Electric Power Co. engaged in this kind of deception.

According to Chubu Electric's report, the firm informed employees about the symposium but did not force them to attend.

Kyushu Electric asked employees of its partner firms to send email to support the restart of some of the Genkai nuclear reactors in Saga Prefecture during a government-hosted explanatory session aired on TV last month.

The government has drawn harsh fire as NISA, tasked with regulating the nuclear industry, is under METI, which promotes it.



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