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Government control or independence ?

May 11, 2012
Gov't eyes compromise with opposition over new nuclear safety agency



TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The government is considering striking a compromise with the opposition camp to expedite the creation of Japan's new nuclear safety agency, which has been delayed amid objections from the opposition, government sources said Friday.

The administration of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, which attempted unsuccessfully to establish the new body on April 1, now hopes to speed up the process, as it is trying to deal with an expected rise in electricity use this summer with all of the nation's reactors having been suspended for checkups and unable to restart.

Both the government and two major opposition parties envision placing a nuclear power regulatory agency under the Environment Ministry, and separating the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which has promoted nuclear power.

But a bill the government has submitted to parliament seeks to have the environment minister decide personnel and budgetary affairs of the envisaged agency, citing the need for the government to be involved in crisis management.

In contrast, a bill presented last month by the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party and its ally the New Komeito party calls for creating a highly independent nuclear regulatory commission as an umbrella organization taking control of the new agency's personnel and budget matters.

The proposed commission would have its independence guaranteed under Article 3 of the National Government Organization Act, as is the case for the Japan Fair Trade Commission, the country's antimonopoly watchdog, and other entities.

The LDP and New Komeito want the commission to be sufficiently free from political influence, saying political intervention will only bring confusion in dealing with a nuclear accident.

The government has decided to review its nuclear regulations after the current setup of the nuclear safety agency under the industry ministry came under fire in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear crisis following the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

But it is uncertain whether the ruling and opposition camps would come to full agreement given major pending issues such as the extent of the authority to be given to the new commission.

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