Criticism, doubts greet new Diet panel on nuclear issues

April 09, 2013

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

The Lower House established a committee to monitor nuclear power administration, but the overtly pro-nuclear panel was immediately criticized as long overdue and doubts were raised about whether it would provide effective oversight.

The Special Committee for Investigation of Nuclear Power Issues was created under the Abe administration following a recommendation from the Diet’s investigation commission on the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

“The accident has not been brought under control,” Kiyoshi Kurokawa, who chaired the now disbanded Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission, told the inaugural session of the committee on April 8.

Former commission member Reiko Hachisuka, who heads the commerce and industry association of Okuma town, home to the Fukushima No. 1 plant, relayed the complaints of residents at the session.

“Disaster victims have been frustrated by the Diet’s response. Give us peace of mind,” she said.

In its 641-page final report released in July, the Diet investigation commission defined the nuclear accident as “a man-made disaster,” and called the responsibilities of the government and plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. into question.

The report recommended the establishment of a permanent committee on nuclear power issues at the Diet to monitor the work of regulatory authorities.

The Democratic Party of Japan, which was in power when the disaster unfolded on March 11, 2011, was reluctant to embrace the proposal, fearful that its own responsibilities would be pursued.

The committee was finally set up after the Liberal Democratic Party regained power in the Lower House election in December.

Kurokawa implicitly criticized the delay.

“I have been given an opportunity (to attend a session) nine months after submitting the report to the Lower House speaker,” he said.

Yasuhisa Shiozaki, an LDP member who sits on the committee, said, “We offer an apology on behalf of the Diet because it has taken so long.”

Former commission members said the Diet has its work cut out dealing with the Fukushima nuclear plant and overseeing regulations of an industry long criticized for its cozy ties and lax supervision.

Shuya Nomura, a lawyer, said the Fukushima No. 1 plant remains unstable, citing recent leaks of radioactive water.

“Can it be entirely left in the hands of TEPCO and the government to handle the crisis?” Nomura said. “We urge the representatives of the people to oversee the situation in an independent manner and through the eyes of the public.”

The Nuclear Regulation Authority, the government’s nuclear industry watchdog, is compiling new regulation standards for nuclear power plants.

But the NRA’s draft standards have already been criticized as extremely insufficient.

“We cannot say the world’s top-class safety measures will be in place (as the NRA claimed),” said Katsuhiko Ishibashi, a seismologist.

The Diet investigation commission had also called on lawmakers to continuously monitor problems found during its investigation and ask the government to regularly report on the monitoring procedures.

But the Diet has not acted on these proposals.

“The Diet commission’s report is not the end. It is the start,” said Masafumi Sakurai, a former commission member and a former superintending prosecutor.

The LDP has traditionally promoted nuclear power. Under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the party plans to allow idled reactors to be brought back online based on the NRA’s new regulation standards that take effect in July.

Of the 40 members of the Special Committee for Investigation of Nuclear Power Issues, 24 belong to the LDP. Six of the LDP members represent constituencies that host a nuclear power plant.

Some other members clearly support nuclear power generation.

“We avoided anti-nuclear lawmakers,” said a senior official of the LDP’s Diet Affairs Committee.

LDP lawmaker Taro Kono, a key member of a multi-party group of anti-nuclear lawmakers, wanted to join the Lower House committee, but he was snubbed.

The panel is also tasked with following up on the investigation into the causes of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Mitsuhiko Tanaka, a former commission member and a former reactor design engineer, dropped his plans for an on-site inspection of the No. 1 reactor building after a TEPCO official gave him false information in February 2012. The official said the building was pitch black inside and too dangerous to enter.

“The new regulation standards will be toothless unless the causes of the accident are brought to light,” Tanaka said April 8. “We ask the Diet to inspect the site on its own.”

Some opposition members, including Akira Kasai of the Japanese Communist Party and Yasuko Komiyama of the People’s Life Party, supported Tanaka’s proposal.

But an LDP member said an investigation will be difficult.

Another pro-nuclear committee member was more frank.

“If we conduct an additional on-site investigation, the establishment of the regulation standards will be pushed back from July, delaying the restarts of reactors,” the member said.

A former commission member said: “The LDP has delayed the establishment of the committee but will try to do more than just that. It may apply pressure to loosen regulations, instead of overseeing the NRA.”

The Lower House has not yet scheduled the next session of the committee.

(This article was written by Shunsuke Kimura and Sachiko Miwa.)

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
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Kiyoshi Kurokawa, center, former chairman of the Diet investigation committee, and other former members attend a session of the Lower House committee on nuclear issues on April 8. (The Asahi Shimbun)

Kiyoshi Kurokawa, center, former chairman of the Diet investigation committee, and other former members attend a session of the Lower House committee on nuclear issues on April 8. (The Asahi Shimbun)

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  • Kiyoshi Kurokawa, center, former chairman of the Diet investigation committee, and other former members attend a session of the Lower House committee on nuclear issues on April 8. (The Asahi Shimbun)

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