The Diet will set up a panel effectively authorized to clarify responsibility of key individuals in the Fukushima nuclear disaster, such as former Prime Minister Naoto Kan and executives of Tokyo Electric Power Co.
The investigation committee, designed to verify the causes of this unprecedented nuclear accident from a nonpartisan stance, will be made up of 10 private-sector experts.
It will be able to summon politicians, bureaucrats and TEPCO executives, such as Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, to testify at the Diet, but only as unsworn witnesses.
The committee will be the first investigation organ of private-sector experts to be set up within the Diet under the Constitution.
Its authority will be endorsed by its governing body, a council of 20 Diet members with parliamentary investigation powers.
The council will be able to call key individuals to give sworn testimony, which means they can be punished if they commit perjury.
In principle, hearings will be conducted in public.
The Diet committee is expected to shed more light on the Fukushima disaster than an existing government committee tasked with verifying the causes of the accident.
The government panel has no legislative backing, nor is it tasked with seeking responsibility of individuals.
It reported the results of hearings with individuals in a closed session on Sept. 27. The panel expects to question an additional 300 people, including Kan, but has no plans to release the results to the public.
The Diet investigation committee was proposed by the opposition Liberal Democratic Party, New Komeito and the Sunrise Party of Japan, which said the government's in-house investigation will not be sufficient to gain public trust.
The ruling Democratic Party of Japan was initially cool to the proposal but relented because it needed the cooperation of the opposition parties to pass the third supplementary budget through the Diet.
Officials from the DPJ, the LDP, New Komeito and the Japanese Communist Party agreed Sept. 28 to pass related legislation during the current Diet session.
The Diet committee is expected to begin investigations after it is set up during the next extraordinary Diet session.
Critics have expressed concerns that political parties could exploit the investigation panel solely for their political gains.
For example, opposition parties may simply take potshots at the DPJ-led government. The ruling camp could take the opportunity to include LDP's past policies to promote nuclear power generation in the scope of investigations.
In view of those concerns, the ruling and opposition parties agreed on the need to ensure that no doubts are raised about the committee's political neutrality.
The Diet investigation committee's members will be picked by the council of Diet members, which include directors of the committees on rules and administration of both chambers.
A key focus is whether the council will select impartial members. Eight of the 10 experts who sit on the committee will be drawn from among those not specializing in nuclear power and radiology.
It will submit reports to the Lower House speaker and the Upper House president within six months after its establishment.
This article was compiled from reports by Jun Tabushi, Asako Myoraku and Shinichi Sekine.
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