Several members of a panel expected to be key in the restart of nuclear reactors in Fukui Prefecture have accepted 14.9 million yen ($180,000) in research grants from an organization linked to the plant operator as well as an electric utility and manufacturer, The Asahi Shimbun has learned.
Documents obtained by The Asahi Shimbun show that four members of the prefectural panel received 7.9 million yen in total over five years from fiscal 2006 from the organization affiliated with Kansai Electric Power Co., which runs the Oi nuclear power plant in Oi in the prefecture.
The documents also show that another member accepted 7 million yen from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., which built the Oi plant, and Japan Atomic Power Co., which runs the Tsuruga nuclear plant in the prefecture, over the same period.
The revelation means that five panelists on the 12-member panel that evaluates the safety of nuclear plants in the prefecture are, in effect, stakeholders in Kansai Electric, Mitsubishi Heavy and Japan Atomic Power.
However, the panelists deny that receiving research grants from Kansai Genshiryoku Kondankai (the Kansai nuclear council), known as Kan Gen Kon, have influenced in any way their assessment of the safety of nuclear power stations.
“I spent the contributions on purely neutral research and that did not affect me in any way,” said Kazutoshi Nishimoto, a panel member and professor of welding at Osaka University, who received 3.6 million yen from fiscal 2006 through fiscal 2008. “There is nothing I feel guilty about.”
Toshiyuki Meshii, professor of nuclear power at the University of Fukui, accepted 5 million yen from Mitsubishi Heavy and 2 million yen from Japan Atomic Power over the five years through fiscal 2010.
“I would like the panel to make a judgment on the propriety of accepting the contributions,” Meshii said through the university.
The central government is pushing for the restart of two of four reactors at the Oi plant by gaining approval from the Fukui prefectural government in the coming months.
On March 23, the Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan, set up in the Cabinet Office, endorsed the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency’s assessment that the Oi reactors are capable of withstanding powerful quakes and tsunami.
The NISA’s assessment is based on Kansai Electric’s computer simulated reports on the safety of its reactors, a requirement under the stress tests introduced last year for their restart.
Prefectural officials are still expected to seek the panel's opinion before they decide on the restart. The panel comprises academics ranging from nuclear power and earthquake engineering to welding and radiology.
Prefectural officials say they do not require prospective panel members to report if they have received financial support from the nuclear power industry.
If they get the green light, the two reactors will be the first to go online after the accident that unfolded March 11 last year at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. Fukui Prefecture hosts 14 reactors, more than any other prefecture in the nation.
According to the documents, three professors and a former professor on the Fukui safety panel had received contributions from the Osaka city-based Kan Gen Kon, an industry organization established in 1956 primarily by Kansai Electric, which is also headquartered in Osaka city.
Kan Gen Kon is made up of 63 companies, including electric utilities, nuclear plant manufacturers and trading houses as well as 74 researchers.
But it does not disclose the names of its members, the size of its projects and the amount of its contributions.
An official at Kan Gen Kon said that it is not obliged to release the information as it is a private organization. The documents on the research grants were obtained from universities through the Information Disclosure Law and the data was available for a five-year period.
According to the investigation by The Asahi Shimbun, at least 37 professors and researchers at Kyoto, Osaka, Nagoya and Fukui universities, whose faculty members have sat on the nuclear safety panel, had accepted 58.95 million yen from Kan Gen Kon from fiscal 2006 to fiscal 2010.
The four Fukui panel members who received research grants from Kan Gen Kon acknowledged in interviews with The Asahi Shimbun that they were aware that Kan Gen Kon is affiliated with the utility.
Of the five members who took a research grant, three did so after they were named to the panel.
Kaichiro Mishima, a former professor of reactor engineering at Kyoto University, received 3 million yen in fiscal 2006 and 2007.
In 2009, he assumed the head of a research arm of Kansai Electric’s wholly owned subsidiary.
Mishima, who became a member of the Fukui panel in 2010, said that accepting contributions from a utility does not impair his judgment.
“I can make the best use of my research expertise by working in the nuclear industry,” he said. “As a researcher, I would not bend my judgment just because I am in the industry.”
Kan Gen Kon promotes public understanding of nuclear power research and use of radiation, holding workshops for teachers at elementary and junior high schools as well as for college students. It also holds events on nuclear power in Fukui Prefecture and the Kinki region with the participation of nuclear researchers.
The organization said providing research grants is meant to enhance research.
The vice president of Kansai Electric served as the chairman of Kan Gen Kon until January. The post of vice chairman of the organization is assumed by a member of the utility’s board.
(This article was written by Satoshi Otani and Chiaki Ogihara.)
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