9 Juillet 2014
July 8, 2014
Two key individuals of the nation’s nuclear safety watchdog were in the news last weekend. Neither matter should be overlooked.
One is the revelation that Satoru Tanaka, a University of Tokyo professor slated to become a Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) commissionerin September, received payments from Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd., operator of a nuclear fuel recycling program, and Mitsubishi FBR Systems Inc., a nuclear plant manufacturer, up until March and June, respectively.
The other cause of concern is the personnel affairs decision to transfer Hideka Morimoto, deputy secretary-general of the NRA Secretariat, back to the Environment Ministry, where he worked before his stint at the NRA. Morimoto, the No. 2 bureaucrat at the NRA, assumed the post of minister’s secretariat chief July 8.
These two developments raise questions of consistency with certain rules that were established upon lessons learned from the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011.
Tanaka, who received money from two companies in the nuclear power industry, does not meet the NRA commissioner selection guidelines created by the previous government led by the Democratic Party of Japan. The guidelines were crafted to secure the NRA’s independence from the pro-nuclear camp.
Environment Minister Nobuteru Ishihara, who supervises the NRA, has said, “We do not refer to the guidelines set by the DPJ.” But is it wise to simply scrap the guidelines?
Tanaka has refused to reveal how much money he received from the companies, saying, “Since I am now a counselor of the NRA, I am not in a position to talk about the matter.” But we can’t see why he should not do so.
To secure neutrality, the NRA also requires the members of its expert panels to voluntarily declare any annual remuneration of 500,000 yen ($4,910) or more that they have received from companies under its regulations.
When he was appointed as an expert panel member in April, Tanaka didn’t declare any remuneration from the two firms. That may be because he received less than 500,000 yen from each of the two companies. If that is the case, he should just say so. He should consider how the public will interpret his refusal to offer any explanation.
When he was tapped as a new NRA commissioner, Tanaka’s eligibility for the job from the viewpoint of the guidelines was questioned at the Diet. Tanaka served as a director of the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum, a nuclear power industry organization, from 2010 to 2012. This fact prompted some lawmakers to call into question his independence from the industry regulated by the NRA.
Also worrisome is the transfer of Morimoto, the NRA Secretariat’s deputy secretary-general, to the Environment Ministry. Morimoto has been serving as the NRA’s de facto public face, supervising its public relations events such as news conferences.
There is a “no-return rule,” which bans transferring an NRA official back to a government body committed to promoting nuclear power generation. This rule is designed to secure the NRA’s independence by allowing its staffers to work without having to worry about the intentions of the organizations they have come from.
While it is true the Environment Ministry is not a government body that promotes nuclear power generation, this personnel change could be a first step toward making the rule a dead letter. We fear that this personnel affairs decision, in addition to the guidelines issue, will end up being another case of “Danger past and God is forgotten.”
Winning the trust of the public is vital for both the NRA and its secretariat. They should not behave in a way that hurts their credibility with the public.
--The Asahi Shimbun, July 8