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Tanaka vows to secure NRA's independence

September 20, 2014

New regulator vows to secure independence of nuclear safety body


TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Satoru Tanaka, who became a commissioner of Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority on Friday, vowed to proceed with safety screenings of nuclear facilities with independence, brushing off criticism he has close ties with nuclear power companies.

Tanaka has come under fire for receiving payments and donations in the past from bodies including one linked to Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the disaster-hit Fukushima Daiichi plant. Critics say the regulator's fairness and independence could be compromised with his addition to the NRA decision-making panel.

A former chairman of the Atomic Energy Society of Japan, Tanaka said at a press conference he will do his job "on the basis of science and technology" and he will show that stance through "my language and behavior."

"All experts engaged in nuclear power should work toward enhancing safety, and any organizations or experts who cannot do that have no rights to engage in nuclear power," Tanaka said.

While all of Japan's 48 commercial reactors currently remain offline amid safety concerns, the regulatory body is assessing the safety of nuclear plants based on a new set of regulations introduced following the March 2011 Fukushima accident, a process necessary for any nuclear units to be allowed to go back online.

The NRA was established in 2012 as a new nuclear safety regulatory body after the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, which used to oversee the nuclear industry, was dismantled following the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

While the NISA was placed under the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry, a promoter of nuclear power, the NRA is given a high degree of independence, reflecting criticism that the pre-Fukushima regulatory body had failed to function properly.

With the first reshuffle of the five-member NRA decision-making panel since its establishment, geologist Akira Ishiwatari also took up one of the two vacant positions.

Ishiwatari, a former Tohoku University professor, will oversee the assessment of earthquake and tsunami hazards that could affect nuclear plants, replacing Kunihiko Shimazaki, a seismologist who had led rigorous safety screenings during his two-year tenure despite utilities' push for a speedy resumption of idled reactors.

Kenzo Oshima, a former ambassador to the United Nations, also left the post on Thursday.

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