The government’s list of candidates for members of the planned nuclear regulatory commission has come under fire from people advocating the phase-out of nuclear power generation in Japan. They are calling on the government to come up with another list.
The main criterion for selecting the members of the new nuclear safety watchdog is whether the person will be able to promote a fundamental change in Japan’s nuclear regulation by effectively using the lessons from the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
It is necessary to find out the candidates’ views and opinions about key issues.
The appointments for the commission members must be approved by the Diet. The ruling and opposition parties should immediately start deliberations on the proposed candidates and summon them to the Diet to answer related questions.
The government has announced five candidates for the commission, including Shunichi Tanaka, a former deputy head of the government’s Atomic Energy Commission.
The government made the selections by using a set of criteria, including candidates having not received remuneration of 500,000 yen ($6,400) or more per year from the nuclear power industry in the past three years.
Critics say many of the candidates have close ties with the “nuclear power village,” the close-knit community of policymakers, scientists and businesses with vested interests in promoting nuclear power generation.
In particular, Tanaka, who in the past worked for the former Japan Atomic Energy Research Institute and served as president of the Atomic Energy Society of Japan, has been criticized as a central figure in the community.
It is indeed clear from his personal history that he has been in the pro-nuclear camp.
It is, however, also true that the members of the commission, which will be in charge of nuclear regulation, need to have high levels of expert knowledge.
The key question is whether the candidates have a deep understanding of the situation that is requiring the nation to move away from its dependence on atomic energy and are ready to perform the job as a nuclear regulator in a vigorous and strict manner.
Tanaka led a group of 16 experts in producing and announcing emergency proposals immediately after the accident broke out at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in March last year. The joint statement issued by the experts said, “As those who have been leading the efforts to promote the use of nuclear power, we offer a deep apology.”
Tanaka is also said to be critical of keeping aged nuclear reactors running. There are varying views about his qualifications to serve as head of the new nuclear regulatory commission.
Regarding especially important government-appointed posts that must be endorsed by the Diet, the Committees on Rules and Administration of both houses of the Diet must hold hearings to question the candidates about their ideas on key issues.
The posts covered by the rule include the governor and deputy governors of the Bank of Japan, the commissioners of the Board of Audit and the chairman of the Fair Trade Commission.
The members of the nuclear regulatory commission should also be subject to the rule.
It is essential to disclose all information about the candidates’ past activities related to nuclear power and their relations with companies in the nuclear power industry.
The Diet has a duty to let the candidates express their opinions and positions on such issues as the new approach to nuclear regulation and the restarts of idled reactors and consider their qualifications in a way that makes the issues involved widely understood by the public.
The problem is that the appointments are being used for partisan politics again.
The main opposition Liberal Democratic Party has hardened its attitude as information about the candidates was leaked to the Yomiuri Shimbun daily before the government’s announcement, causing a delay in the submission of the choices to the Diet.
But establishing a new nuclear regulation system is an urgent task that must be carried out without delay.
It is high time for Japanese lawmakers to stop the folly of wasting time on matters that have nothing to do with this crucial policy challenge.
--The Asahi Shimbun, July 26
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