12 Mai 2012
The government is required to ensure an independent nuclear regulatory commission, which it is set to launch under Article 3 of the National Government Organization Act, will effectively function and fulfill its responsibilities.
It is important to secure human resources and build a framework that can ensure the safety of nuclear power stations and promptly respond to any accidents in an appropriate manner. Both the ruling and opposition blocs are urged to hold consultations to add the finishing touches to the plan.
The crisis at the tsunami-hit Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant has highlighted structural problems involving government organizations that regulate nuclear power stations. Specifically, it is inappropriate that the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), which supervises the safety of nuclear plants, is under the umbrella of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), which promotes nuclear power.
Nevertheless, new nuclear regulatory organizations have not yet been launched even though one year has passed since the outbreak of the crisis. Both ruling and opposition parties should be blamed for their negligence.
The government has submitted a bill to the Diet aimed at setting up a nuclear regulatory agency as an extra-ministerial organization of the Environment Ministry. At the same time, the largest opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its ally, the New Komeito party, have made their proposal on the framework of regulatory bodies.
Both the government's plan and one proposed by the LDP-Komeito alliance are the same in that both call for separation of NISA from METI, but are different in how far new nuclear power regulatory bodies should be independent of the administrative body.
The government's plan would require the Environment Ministry to control the personnel management and budget of the regulatory agency. Under the LDP-Komeito plan, however, the regulatory commission would place the regulatory agency under its supervision and control the agency's personnel management and budget. Moreover, the appointment of members of the commission would have to be approved by the Diet.
The government is willing to basically accept the LDP-Komeito proposal, but it is still naive to believe that the regulatory commission will secure enough independence from the administrative body even if it is set up under Article 3 of the National Government Organization Act as proposed by the LDP and Komeito.
The question is who will be appointed as members of the commission. The panel will not win the public's understanding unless its members are selected from among those critical of government officials, researchers and industry insiders, who have promoted nuclear power and created the myth of nuclear plants' infallible safety, and are dedicated to the safety of the public.
The regulatory agency would handle practical regulatory work and support the commission. However, most of the agency's officials will likely be transferred from NISA and the Cabinet Office's Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan. The officials should not allow bureaucratic red tape to linger. Rules should be established to ban officials of the new regulatory agency from returning to the ministries and agencies where they once belonged.
A private fact-finding panel on the Fukushima nuclear crisis uncovered in February this year that the Japan Nuclear Energy Safety Organization, which is under the umbrella of NISA, had inspected nuclear power stations based on instruction manuals that were exact copies of documents produced by the plants' operators. The restructuring of the government's nuclear power regulatory organizations will be meaningless unless the implementation of safety regulations is improved.
The government had insisted that it would be easier for the new regulatory agency to respond to the emergency situation if it was placed under the Environment Ministry. Ruling and opposition parties are urged to thoroughly deliberate on how the regulatory commission would manage a crisis as an independent body to be established under Article 3 of the National Government Organization Act.
Since May 5, none of Japan's nuclear plants has been in operation. The government has released its estimate that if the No. 3 and 4 reactors at the Oi Nuclear Power Plant in Fukui Prefecture are reactivated, its operator Kansai Electric Power Co. will manage to secure enough electric power for consumption in the Kansai region this coming summer. However, reactivation of these reactors will hardly convince the public unless the new nuclear power regulatory bodies are launched or new safety standards are established based on the results of the investigation into the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Resolution is on the horizon for the Diet impasse over a bill to create a nuclear regulatory agency, as the government and the ruling Democratic Party of Japan have decided to accept a counterproposal from the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito that calls for drastic revisions to the government-sponsored bill, government sources have revealed.
The ruling bloc is determined to make the concessions necessary to enact legislation to launch the government-envisioned nuclear regulatory body during the current legislative session, several government and DPJ sources said Friday.
The proposal put forth by the two major opposition parties says the government-envisaged nuclear regulatory agency, under the Environment Ministry, should be subordinate to what the LDP and Komeito have tentatively called a "nuclear regulatory commission."
This regulatory commission would have a highly independent status, much like the Fair Trade Commission under Article 3 of the National Government Organization Law.
Under the LDP-Komeito proposal, the government-planned agency would have about 500 employees and act as the secretariat of a five-member regulatory commission. Appointments to the independent commission would require Diet approval, sources said.
The capitulation of the ruling camp to opposition parties is expected to lead to an early start of Diet deliberations on the government-sponsored bill, according to the sources.
In exchange for the concession to incorporate the opposition-proposed commission into the government bill, the ruling bloc has called for the opposition to start Diet debates on the bill from Friday, they said.
The government hopes to establish the nuclear regulatory agency as early as June 1, the sources noted.
The opposition-envisioned nuclear regulatory commission would have the right to decide on a wide range of personnel and budgetary matters, as is the case with the FTC.
The government's bill would have empowered the environment minister to appoint the chief of the agency to ensure a swift political decision could be made in the event of a nuclear emergency.
The LDP-Komeito plans are designed to grant major decision-making authority to the nuclear commission, leading Environment Minister Goshi Hosono to express his concern that the commission, a collegial panel, could have difficulty handling a potential nuclear crisis.