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Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Openness vowed at nuke policy hearings
Utilities' opinion said needed but won't dominate public meetings
By MASAMI ITO
Faced with harsh public criticism for allowing power utility officials to express pronuclear opinions at government-sponsored citizens' hearings over the three-day weekend, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura vowed Tuesday the situation will be immediately corrected.
Fujimura also said, however, that utility officials should not be completely banned from expressing their personal views on atomic power at the hearings, which are being held to solicit public input on future energy and environmental policies.
"It is regrettable for power company officials to represent their organizations and state their opinions . . . but it would be difficult to completely prohibit the actual workers from expressing their views," Fujimura said. "We will consider how to improve (the hearings) regarding the participation of power company employees and announce the results immediately."
The hearings, which kicked off Saturday in Saitama, will be held nationwide until early August to hear public views on three possible scenarios for nuclear energy dependence by 2030 — zero percent, 15 percent, or 20 to 25 percent. The government is also gathering public comments in other ways and will have an independent panel headed by Keio University's Yasunori Sone conduct a "deliberative opinion poll."
"We will hear various opinions and the government will ultimately hand down a responsible decision in August," Fujimura said.
But questions are being raised on how the hearings are being run, including that only three people supporting each plan are selected "randomly" to voice their opinions even though an overwhelming majority of the participants chose zero dependence on nuclear power.
According to the National Policy Unit, which serves as the secretariat for the hearings, of the 309 people who applied to state their opinions at the hearing in Saitama, 239 chose zero percent, 30 advocated 15 percent and 40 were for 20 to 25 percent. Of the 93 people who applied to speak at the Sendai hearing, 66 supported zero percent, 14 were in favor of 15 percent and 13 for 20 to 25 percent.
On Monday in Nagoya, out of 161 applicants, 106 said they wanted no more nuclear power, 18 chose 15 percent and 37 called for 20 to 25 percent.
The random selection, however, led to two utility officials being chosen to speak at the three hearings held so far.
During the hearing Monday in Nagoya, Michiaki Okamoto identified himself as an employee of Chubu Electric Power Co. but explained he was there to give his personal opinion, which was to support the 20 to 25 percent plan.
"No one died from the direct impact of radiation after the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and I believe that it will not change in five to 10 years' time," Okamoto said, drawing jeers from the participants.
On Sunday in Sendai, a Tohoku Electric Power Co. employee was chosen as one of the nine speakers and stated the company's views on nuclear power, causing an uproar among the participants.
Fujimura, however, said the state is trying to hear all sides.
"What the government has done is provide very objective facts rather than trying to sway" public opinion to a specific plan, he said. "It is true that many people wanted to express views on wanting zero percent, but we need to hear different opinions equally."