Candidates for nuclear regulatory commission paid by power utilities

July 27, 2012

By SATOSHI OTANI/ Staff Writer

Two of the five prospective commissioners of a new nuclear regulatory commission received payments from operators of nuclear power plants but likely did not violate guidelines intended to ensure neutrality, The Asahi Shimbun has learned.

The new commission will soon replace the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), which has come under fire for its cozy ties with the nuclear power industry. Critics say this relationship, part of the “nuclear village,” led to lax rules and oversight, and contributed to the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant last year.

The government set up guidelines on personnel appointments to the new commission, eliminating any person who has received 500,000 yen ($6,400) or more a year in remuneration from nuclear-related industries during the past three years.

“We will not pick people from the 'nuclear village,'" Environment Minister Goshi Hosono said.

The two prospective commissioners who received remuneration are Toyoshi Fuketa, the 54-year-old deputy director general of the Nuclear Science and Engineering Directorate at the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, and Kunihiko Shimazaki, a 66-year-old professor emeritus of seismology at the University of Tokyo who also presides over the government's Coordinating Committee for Earthquake Prediction.

Fuketa told The Asahi Shimbun that he has given lectures on nuclear fuel at a training hall of Japan Atomic Power Co. in Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture, once or twice a year since around 2003. He said he was paid around 40,000 yen for each of the lectures, which were attended by employees of Japan Atomic Power and other utilities.

"The lectures were little different from university classes," Fuketa said. "Common sense tells you that the amount of remuneration was not exorbitant. It's not like I was engaged in joint research with the power utilities."

Shimazaki declined to comment to The Asahi Shimbun.

But officials at Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, said Shimazaki gave a talk on earthquakes in March 2008 at Denryokukan, a public relations facility in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward that TEPCO operated at the time. Shimazaki received remuneration for the lecture.

"We paid him an amount that we thought was appropriate and reasonable, but we cannot disclose the specific amount," said an official at TEPCO's Corporate Communications Department.

Seiji Abe, a professor of public enterprise at Kansai University who served as a technical adviser to the government's Investigation Committee on the Accident at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Stations, said remuneration to a renowned scientist for his lectures should come as no surprise.

"It is inevitable to set up certain guidelines on personnel appointments, but the most essential thing is information disclosure,” Abe said. “I think an appointee to the nuclear regulatory commission should voluntarily disclose all lecturer fees and other remunerations he has received in the past, even if they do not constitute a violation of the personnel selection guidelines."

Hideyuki Ban, a co-director of the nonprofit Citizen's Nuclear Information Center who serves on the New Nuclear Policy Planning Council under the Japan Atomic Energy Commission, said it would be difficult to find a qualified person for the nuclear regulatory commission who is not connected in some way to the electric power industry.

"There are few experts in Japan outside the 'nuclear village,'" Ban said. "In a sense, it is inevitable for someone with enough expertise to qualify as a nuclear regulatory commissioner to have ties to the industry. The government's guidelines on personnel appointments are nothing but a stopgap measure, in such a situation, to pick the 'least unqualified' of the pack. There should be more effective measures, such as calling on the commissioners to submit pledges."

By SATOSHI OTANI/ Staff Writer
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Kunihiko Shimazaki (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Kunihiko Shimazaki (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

  • Kunihiko Shimazaki (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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