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Saturday, Aug. 6, 2011

Next nuclear watchdog needs teeth: Hosono


Staff writer

Goshi Hosono, state minister in charge of preventing further atomic power plant accidents, revealed Friday a proposal to fold nuclear-related functions now scattered among different ministries into a new authority.

Tentatively called Genshiryoku Anzencho, or the Nuclear Safety Agency, it would combine the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, the Cabinet Office's Nuclear Safety Commission and a radiation monitoring section within the science and technology ministry.

Under Hosono's proposal, the new agency will be separated from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which promotes nuclear power, and given more independence.

With its launch targeted for next April, a bill to create the agency will likely be deliberated on in the next ordinary Diet session that starts in January.

"Without fundamental restructuring of the regulatory system, we won't be able to restore people's trust. From an international perspective, while we have received very warm support, we are also being looked upon harshly," Hosono told an afternoon press conference.

Although first assumed the new agency would exist within the Environment Ministry, the proposal also mentions the Cabinet Office as a possibility.

With various functions already concentrated in the Cabinet Office, Hosono said it was suited to act as the "control tower."

Hosono acknowledged that while the Environment Ministry may have an interest in promoting nuclear power to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to combat global warming, "my understanding is that the Environment Ministry is pushing natural renewable energy" and is rather distanced from nuclear power.

An advisory committee called Genshiryoku Anzen Shingikai, or Nuclear Safety Committee, is also part of the proposal.

Currently, NISA is the main regulatory body, while the NSC drafts nuclear safety guidelines and monitors NISA in what has been known as the "double checking system." But because radiation monitoring is being handled by a division of the science and technology ministry, it is unclear where the final responsibility lies.

Hosono also stressed the importance of developing human resources and personnel management. The new agency will have its own recruitment system, as opposed to the current, allegedly corrupt system, under which NISA employees are drawn from METI.

Due to the Fukushima accident, "nuclear power will be going through tough times, so it will be hard to attract capable young human resources," Hosono said, so the proposal will consider creation of a new research institution to improve human resources. As a part of METI, NISA's independence as a regulatory body has long been questioned.

Reactor use a record low

KYODO

The operation rate of Japan's 54 commercially run nuclear reactors was as low as 33.9 percent in July, down from 36.8 percent in June, according to a recent report compiled by the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum.

The ratio for July is believed to be the lowest on record if data during days when the number was much smaller than now are excluded.



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