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More delays?

July 22, 2012

Opposition's refusal may delay N-plant restarts / Personnel proposal must pass Diet soon to avert possible power shortage in winter months



The formation of a new administrative body in charge of regulating nuclear power will likely be further delayed due to objections from opposition parties against media reports on the government's personnel proposals for the body.

On Friday, the government postponed submitting a list of nominees for the nuclear regulatory commission to the Diet after opposition parties, especially the Liberal Democratic Party, objected that the list has been reported in the media before submission.

The government plans to launch the commission on Sept. 3. If the postponement leads to a delay in launching the commission, it would inevitably slow the commission's evaluations on restarting nuclear power plants. In the worst-case scenario, power shortages may occur and adversely affect the public.

On Friday, Koriki Jojima, Diet Affairs Committee chairman of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, met with his LDP counterpart, Fumio Kishida, to persuade the LDP not to oppose the personnel proposal being submitted to the Diet.

"At this stage, it's difficult to make a new personnel proposal from scratch," Jojima said.

Angered by the media reports on the personnel proposal, some opposition members have demanded the list be scrapped. The government and ruling parties are wary of such dissent becoming dominant in opposition parties.

The chairman and other members of the nuclear regulatory commission are required to have a high level of expertise. The government has also set strict criteria in choosing the candidates to exclude people involved in private companies, government officials and scholars who have promoted nuclear power--members of what is dubbed the "nuclear village."

The conditions included barring people who have worked at nuclear-related companies, such as electric power companies, in the past three years regardless of whether they were ordinary employees or executives. Another condition excluded those who have received 500,000 yen or more in annual remuneration from a single nuclear-related company in the past three years.

According to sources, the government believes it would be difficult to launch the nuclear regulatory commission in September if it has to make a new personnel proposal, so it plans to submit the original proposal to the Diet next week. It includes Shunichi Tanaka, 67, an advisor for the Research Organization for Information Science and Technology, as a candidate for chairman of the commission, Kayoko Nakamura, 62, head of a project team at the Japan Radioisotope Association, and three others.

The government is trying to launch the regulatory commission in September to establish a system capable of managing the nation's nuclear regulations, such as deciding on restarting nuclear power plants by winter, when electricity demand rises.

If the Diet approves the personnel proposal, future commission members will be able to prepare a list of nominees for a nuclear regulatory agency that will act as the commission's secretariat. The government expects such preparations will take about a month after the Diet approves the personnel proposal.


Govt wary of power crisis

The first major task of the nuclear regulatory commission will be to evaluate the restart of nuclear power plants following the reactivation of the Nos. 3 and 4 reactors at the Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture earlier this month.

The first nuclear reactor expected to be evaluated by the commission is the No. 3 reactor at the Ikata nuclear power plant in Ehime Prefecture, as it is the only suspended reactor that went through the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency's assessment of first-round stress tests. The power plant is operated by Shikoku Electric Power Co., while the Oi power plant is run by Kansai Electric Power Co.

There are also calls to restart the Nos. 1 and 2 reactors at Tomari nuclear power plant, operated by Hokkaido Electric Power Co.

However, it is expected to take about 10 months for the nuclear regulatory commission to draw up new safety standards on nuclear power plants. There is a possibility that the commission will adopt the government's temporary standards, but it will be the commission's prerogative to decide the process to restart nuclear reactors.

"It is difficult to predict how long the evaluation [of restarts] will take," a source close to the government said.

Any delay in approving the personnel proposals will lead to postponements of nuclear power plant restarts and ultimately may adversely affect the public.

A supplementary clause in the law to establish a nuclear regulatory commission stipulates that if the Diet does not take a vote on a personnel proposal within 10 days after the government submits it, the prime minister can appoint the commission's chairman and four other members.

However, the appointments have to be approved by the Diet afterwards and the move could end up fueling the anger of the opposition parties.

According to sources, the currently prevailing opinion in the government is to "appease" opposition parties to obtain their support for the initial personnel proposal.


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