19 Mai 2013
The government’s Agency for Natural Resources and Energy engaged in highly questionable behavior by helping a private panel calling for restarts of nuclear reactors to draft recommendations that were submitted to the prime minister.
In its “urgent proposal” titled “Rebuilding of responsible, nuclear policy,” the panel called on the government to bring idled reactors back online and step up reactor exports.
It was submitted to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in February.
The 5-page proposal also blasted the Nuclear Regulation Authority, a new watchdog established after the March 2011 disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, for its emphasis on adhering to safety regulations and approach to suspected active faults running underneath nuclear sites.
“Discussion has yet to take place based on using the highest level of wisdom and information available,” the proposal said in reference to the NRA.
The private panel is led by Akito Arima, a former education minister and nuclear physicist. Twenty-nine people are listed as supporters of the proposal. None of them are heads of electric utilities.
However, the list included Harufumi Mochizuki, previously the highest ranking bureaucrat in the industry ministry and now an outside director of Hitachi Ltd., a leading maker of nuclear facilities, and top officials of key players in the nuclear industry as well as trading houses.
The agency is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which promotes nuclear energy.
The Asahi Shimbun obtained computer files that contained the gist and draft of the proposal.
The files were produced under the name of the ministry’s Information Systems and Welfare Division, which manages documents created through its computer system.
According to the ministry, all the documents created through the ministry's computers bear the name of the division.
In an interview with The Asahi Shimbun, a senior official with the agency acknowledged that bureaucrats in its Nuclear Energy Policy Planning Division produced the draft proposal.
The official also said the head of the Nuclear Energy Policy Planning Division and other agency bureaucrats attended meetings of the panel as they worked on a set of draft recommendations.
Agency officials also frequently contacted the panel secretariat through e-mail exchanges in the process of compiling the recommendations.
The panel’s secretariat, with Mochizuki’s help, came up with the outline late last year, according to a well-placed source who said ministry officials then produced it on the computer.
The source also said ministry officials arranged a meeting between Abe and panel members.
Mochizuki acknowledged his role, saying, “The secretariat and I put together the view espoused by supporters” of reactivating idled reactors.
An official with the General Policy Division under the ministry’s Director-General’s Secretariat defended the agency’s involvement.
“Producing memos and providing materials for discussion itself is not a problem,” the official said.
Arima, who also served as president of the University of Tokyo, denied the agency played a role in drafting the proposal.
“The proposal is based on the consensus among members of the panel,” he said. “It is impossible for a third party to come in and tinker with such things.”
The revelation came as the Abe administration forges ahead with reactor restarts as a means of shoring up the economy, despite widespread skepticism about the safety of nuclear facilities. Of the nation’s 50 reactors, only two are online.