Promoters of atomic energy, the so-called nuclear power village comprising people in government, academia and the power industry, clearly have not reflected on their past behavior, despite last year's disaster. We are angry but not surprised at the latest revelation about the conduct of this group. It was by no means unexpected.
It emerged that the secretariat of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission, which is under the Cabinet Office, held unofficial meetings on more than 20 occasions but only with officials of power companies and other proponents of nuclear power generation. At each meeting, they disclosed information that was not yet available to a subcommittee looking into the government's nuclear fuel recycling policy.
The only member of the subcommittee who attended the meetings was its chairman. A draft policy proposal presented to the subcommittee was also revised so that the contents would be advantageous to operators of nuclear fuel reprocessing plants.
The situation will fundamentally undermine public trust in the Japan Atomic Energy Commission. Now that its biased approach has been revealed, the commission should re-examine its organizational setup. It also needs to carefully examine whether other irregularities have occurred in past debates.
The commission has served the role of deciding the basis of the government's nuclear energy policy. A number of subcommittees and special committees are placed under the parent body, and it is the nation's supreme organization for promoting nuclear energy.
In response to last year's disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, decisions have been made to reorganize the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency and the Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan, as well as other regulatory organizations. However, the Japan Atomic Energy Commission remains intact.
Looking at this scandal, we have no alternative but to conclude the commission's credibility is nothing more than a cesspool of the "nuclear power village."
For example, sources say a number of employees on loan from electric power companies and manufacturers of nuclear reactors have always been stationed in the commission’s secretariat. This is strange.
Some intellectuals, who are critical of nuclear power, have griped that the commission has not taken their opinions into account.
Mie Asaoka, a lawyer who belongs to another committee, has submitted a detailed report on how deliberations are sometimes directed by its secretariat and pointed out wide gaps between the actual deliberations and reports cobbled together by the secretariat.
These are the circumstances in which the unofficial meetings came to light. The situation revealed how interested parties obtained information through the secretariat and tried to steer policy over members' heads. Such trickery forms the very essence of the "village" that the nuclear industry is accused of fostering.
Along with the nuclear fuel recycling problem, the commission is also discussing revisions to the nuclear energy policy outline. It is likely to propose a number of revisions to the government's Energy and Environment Council. The government is expected to make a decision on that and other energy policies after a "national" debate.
But how does the atomic energy commission expect us to believe a proposal based on such biased proceedings?
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and Goshi Hosono, state minister in charge of the nuclear accident, need to do something about this scandalous state of affairs. They must clarify the actual situation without delay and drastically reform the way the commission is run. Getting rid of its chairman and other senior officials should be an option.
The government must go back to square one and make a fresh start. Otherwise, any "new nuclear energy policy" it comes up with will lack credibility.
--The Asahi Shimbun, May 25
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