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Manipulation, again

August 7, 2012



Pro-nuclear power experts used secret meetings to manipulate deliberations



Secret meetings of pro-nuclear power experts organized by the Japan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) "manipulated" deliberations by a subcommittee on Japan's nuclear fuel cycle by removing policy scenarios that would adversely affect power suppliers, a report by a Cabinet Office investigation team has revealed.

The report, which was submitted to nuclear disaster minister Goshi Hosono on Aug. 6, also revealed that the JAEC held a "coordination meeting" attended by power suppliers to influence the conclusion by the subcommittee. "It was inappropriate from the viewpoint of neutrality, fairness and transparency," the report concluded.

According to the report, the secret meetings -- which were technically called "study meetings" -- "guided discussions by a subcommittee by removing scenarios that would adversely affect utilities. The possibility that those meetings influenced the conclusion by the subcommittee cannot be ruled out."

The team's finding contradicts JAEC's claim that the secret meetings did not influence subcommittee discussion on the nuclear fuel cycle. The subcommittee was set up last September to review Japan's nuclear fuel cycle policy in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. "We will examine the report and disclose what responses we will make," JAEC Chairman Shunsuke Kondo told reporters.

The initial part of the report examined the characteristics of the secret meetings by analyzing e-mail dispatched by the Cabinet Office. Because one of the e-mails stated that "The direction (of discussions) will be examined by the study meetings, based on which discussions will be made," the report points out that those meetings "were aimed at influencing not only working-level meetings but other discussions as well."

The report then recognizes the fact that a policy scenario that would adversely affect the continuation of research and development of the Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor was deleted from policy options as a result of a secretive meeting held on March 8. "There was an induction of discussions under the strong influence of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry," the report said.

While acknowledging that most of the subcommittee members denied during their interviews that the study meetings influenced their conclusion, the report said, "If the scenarios presented have already been sifted through, that would affect discussions. The possibility that it influenced the (subcommittee's) conclusion cannot be ruled out."

Furthermore, the report disclosed that the JAEC held a coordination meeting attended by its chairman and power industry officials, where they discussed the conclusion to be drawn by the subcommittee.

After the investigation team restored e-mails from the Cabinet Office's computer server, it emerged that JAEC held a "coordination meeting" on May 1 to discuss the subcommittee's conclusion, called a "comprehensive evaluation." The meeting was attended by JAEC Chairman Kondo, Vice-Chairman Tatsujiro Suzuki, officials from the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan -- a consortium of 10 utilities -- and Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd., the operator of the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture.

Prior to the meeting, a draft made by Suzuki was distributed to attendees via e-mail, based on which they adjusted their opinions, according to the report.

Cabinet Office team blasted for failing to get to bottom of secret meetings on nuke power



A Cabinet Office fact-finding team has come under fire for failing to get to the bottom of secret meetings between pro-nuclear officials after it released a report that stopped short of concluding whether the gatherings had influenced policy discussions at the Japan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC).

The team, comprised of 12 members including Cabinet Office Senior Vice Minister Hitoshi Goto, spent about 1 1/2 months on its investigation into secret meetings of JAEC members and others favoring nuclear power.

The team needed to confirm specifically what was discussed at such secret meetings to determine whether and how far the discussions influenced policy decisions at a JAEC subcommittee that was reviewing the nuclear fuel cycle project in which spent nuclear fuel would be reprocessed for reuse in nuclear reactors.

However, attendees and organizers of the secret meetings claimed that no minutes were compiled on any of the gatherings. The team managed to obtain memoranda on the outline of discussions at some meetings submitted by the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA), which operates the prototype fast-breeder reactor Monju in Fukui Prefecture, the core of the nuclear fuel cycle project.

Tatsujiro Suzuki, vice chairman of JAEC, told the fact-finding team that those present at such meetings representing the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry and the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan (FEPC) were taking note of what was being discussed.

Nevertheless the ministry said no such memorandum has been found. FEPC admitted keeping memoranda but refused to submit them to the team for privacy concerns.

Akira Yoshikawa, a senior official at the Cabinet Office, raised doubts about Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry officials' denial that they took notes. "I asked the ministry a few times whether it kept memoranda on the meetings, but it responded they didn't. It's extremely doubtful they did."

Lawyer Yasushi Murakami, who served on a special fact-finding team on sumo wrestlers' and stablemasters' involvement in illegal baseball gambling, is paying close attention to the fact that Goto, senior vice minister at the Cabinet Office, asked attendees of secret meetings to cooperate in its investigation.

"Those who refused to follow orders from their appointees would be punished. However, a Cabinet Office senior vice minister has rank only over Cabinet Office officials," Murakami said. "If the investigative team needed to gain cooperation from other ministries and agencies concerned, the prime minister should have issued the order."

Murakami also pointed out that FEPC would have submitted relevant memoranda it keeps if it had been instructed by the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry, the regulator of the industry, to do so.

However, neither Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, nor Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yukio Edano, took such action, illustrating their lack of awareness of their responsibility, which hindered efforts to get to the bottom of the scandal.

Yoshikawa later said, "We have no choice but to ask them to voluntarily cooperate."

When launched, the fact-finding team was comprised of only seven members. Lawyer Tadashi Kunihiro, who is an expert in crisis management, had not been appointed to the panel until July 13.

"The organization that conducted the investigation was inadequate," said lawyer Nobuo Gohara, who chaired a third-party investigative panel on allegations that Kyushu Electric Power Co. attempted to manipulate public opinion on whether to reactivate idled reactors at its Genkai Nuclear Power Plant in Saga Prefecture. "Even if the number of members of such a panel is gradually increased, it never produces any positive results. Getting to the bottom of an incident is difficult if the top official lacks sufficient awareness about the problem."

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