30 Mars 2013
March 30, 2013
All the seats in the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA)'s Radiation Council have remained vacant since September 2012, apparently as a result of tougher membership requirements.
The NRA has stiffened requirements for council membership as the Japanese public places more scrutiny on atomic power policy in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear crisis that broke out in March 2011, NRA officials say.
The government, which is preparing to lift evacuation orders in some disaster-hit areas, is considering radiation-protection measures to help residents return home quickly. However, the current lack of Radiation Council members could certainly delay its deliberations on the issue, and adversely affect its efforts to speed up the overall disaster recovery effort.
The council, which previously operated under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, was transferred to the NRA, a highly independent body, in September last year under the previous administration led by the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). However, the term of all 19 of its members, including Chairman Otsura Niwa, expired on Sept. 18, 2012. The NRA is now selecting candidates to fill the vacancy.
The NRA has stiffened the qualifications for membership in the Radiation Council to enhance its transparency and independence.
As a result, executives and researchers at companies operating atomic power plants are disqualified from serving as members of the council. Moreover, the NRA has decided to require all members of the council to report remuneration they receive from any single nuclear plant operator over a three-year period prior to their appointments when such remuneration totals 500,000 yen a year or more. They must also report donations extended to their research institutes over the same period. The NRA is set to fully publicize such information.
The government decided on March 7 to draw up measures to protect residents from radiation and lessen radiation contamination based on scientific knowledge in an effort to help evacuees to return home at an early date. It will also consider setting a new upper limit on annual radiation exposure in areas whose current cumulative dose is less than 20 millisieverts a year -- where the government is preparing to lift evacuation orders.
At the request of ministries and agencies concerned, the Radiation Council set upper limits on radiation exposure for workers engaged in decontamination efforts, as well as on levels of radioactive substances contained in foods, following the outbreak of the nuclear crisis.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the government will clarify its basic view on measures to protect against radiation and lessen radiation levels in affected areas by the end of this year.
However, unless the council resumes its work at an early date, the government's efforts to allow residents of evacuation zones to return home at an early date could be stalled.