8 Août 2013
Amid Japan's ongoing push to export nuclear power technology, the Mainichi Shimbun has discovered that the Japanese government has failed to sufficiently evaluate client nations' nuclear regulatory regimes as well as awareness of nuclear safety issues among the public of those nations.
In 2008, the administration of then Prime Minister Taro Aso pledged to create guidelines that would block Japanese financing for nuclear exports if residents of the importing nation were not properly aware of safety issues related to nuclear power.
The Aso administration made the promise in a written response to a query from then Social Democratic Party lawmaker Masamichi Kondo. The response stated that it would create guidelines directing the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) "not to provide financing" for nuclear power technology exports if the public in the importing nation "has not been appropriately informed of" the guaranteed safety level, measures to be taken in the event of a nuclear accident, and how nuclear waste including spent fuel would be handled.
No tangible progress was made, however, on creating the guidelines. In December 2010, seven non-governmental organizations including the environmental NGO FoE Japan addressed the 2008 promise during a regular meeting with the Ministry of Finance, the parent ministry of the JBIC. An official from the ministry's international section stated that "the JBIC has said the content of the guidelines and when they'll be finalized are both being considered with the utmost gravity." Asked by the NGOs what the ministry's position was on the issue, the official apparently replied that the ministry was "in full agreement with the written reply to House of Councillors member Masamichi Kondo" from two years before.
Three years later, with a nuclear technology deal in place with Turkey and another possible with Jordan, those guidelines have yet to be completed.
In a related development, information obtained by the Mainichi has furthermore shown that the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry is considering action to deal with the inability to conduct checks on importing nations' nuclear regulatory and safety apparatus -- previously conducted by the now defunct Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) -- which apparently became even more slipshod beginning in September last year. This is because the Nuclear Regulation Authority set up following the Fukushima nuclear disaster has refused to take over the duty from the NISA on the grounds that it could not ensure its independence as a regulatory body if it were involved in the export of nuclear plant technology.
The JBIC and the Finance Ministry admitted to the Mainichi that the public information guidelines remain undecided, but that they would be "drawn up in line with the trade ministry's response to the safety regime evaluation issue."
FoE Director Kanna Mitsuta poured cold water on the JBIC and Finance Ministry comments, saying, "That's not a real answer. Government checks of an importing nation's nuclear safety apparatus and confirming the people of that country have access to the information they need about nuclear power are completely different issues."
The JBIC will finance purchases of Japanese nuclear reactors -- just one of which costs hundreds of billions of yen -- by developing nations unable to pay the hefty price tag up-front in a single payment.
"If the (public information) guidelines are not in place, then the JBIC cannot provide financing, and nuclear technology exports become impossible," a senior trade ministry official told the Mainichi.