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Saturday, Oct. 1, 2011
Opposition-backed nuclear panel formed
Second such body part of DPJ compromise
The opposition-controlled Upper House unanimously passed a bill Friday to form an independent panel of experts tasked with probing, in a more trustworthy and transparent manner, the reasons behind the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant.
The government set up a separate panel in July, headed by Yotaro Hatamura, professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo, to conduct a similar investigation, but opposition parties have insisted that a government panel will not be able to thoroughly investigate what the state has done. Some lawmakers, however, doubt whether having two panels doing similar tasks is a good idea.
Therefore, the opposition-initiated move is partly meant for the ruling Democratic Party of Japan to show it is compromising with the opposition parties to gain their cooperation in the divided Diet.
DPJ Secretary General Azuma Koshiishi said the party accepted the plan as "part of tripartite talks with opposition parties" after the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito, the two largest opposition parties, said the panel's establishment meets a condition to start talks on a third extra budget financing Tohoku's reconstruction.
Compared with the government panel, discussions by the new panel, to be set up in the Diet, are expected to be more transparent.
According to the legislation enacted Friday, the new panel will be open to the press, and have the right to question stakeholders, including Tokyo Electric Power Co., government officials and Cabinet ministers. If they refuse to disclose documents or respond to questioning, panel members can request sworn testimony through a joint council consisting of 10 lawmakers from both chambers.
The government panel, meanwhile, is not open to the media.
The new 10-member panel will consist of experts appointed by the speaker of the Lower House and the president of the Upper House. The government panel, meanwhile, consists of experts that former Prime Minister Naoto Kan appointed who do not have vested interests in the nuclear power industry.
The Diet panel will draft a report six months after appointing its members, while the government panel will make an interim report on Dec. 26 and a final report sometime in the future when all issues regarding the nuclear crisis have been settled.
The DPJ-led ruling bloc, which does not hold a majority in the Upper House, needs cooperation from the two opposition parties in order to pass budgets and bills.
The DPJ, at first, was reluctant over the move out of concern that the opposition may turn the panel into a stage to criticize the DPJ by summoning day after day Kan and others in his Cabinet, who were in office when the March 11 quake-tsunami catastrophe crippled Tepco's nuclear plant. Therefore, the DPJ arranged with opposition not to use the panel for "political reasons."
The government will set up a panel to seek ways to prevent another nuclear crisis, including both experts in favor of atomic power and those who oppose it, sources said.
The panel will be formed within a new nuclear safety agency to be created next April by integrating the existing nuclear regulatory bodies, the sources said.
Nominated members include Tetsunari Iida, head of the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies, who is an opponent of nuclear energy.
Shizuoka Gov. Heita Kawakatsu is also expected to join the panel. Shizuoka is home to Chubu Electric Power Co.'s idled Hamaoka nuclear power plant.
The expert panel will discuss the nation's nuclear and energy policies to compile recommendations for establishing a more effective regulatory system. It will hold its first meeting Tuesday and then meet once a month, according to the sources.
The government decided to establish the new nuclear safety agency as an external regulatory body of the Environment Ministry following the March 11 disaster, which crippled Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
The move reflects criticism that the presence of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency under the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry hinders objective nuclear regulatory operations as the ministry has been promoting nuclear power.