At long last, the Diet on May 29 began deliberations on bills to create Japan's new nuclear regulatory agency.
These bills must become law if Japan, having learned its lesson the hard way from the Fukushima disaster, is to have a powerful nuclear watchdog that functions independently of authorities that promote nuclear power generation. The law will also be crucial to the eventual abandonment of nuclear energy.
The bills were first presented to the Diet four months ago, and the proposed new agency was supposed to have been established back in April. All this delay has added to the public's mistrust of the nation's nuclear authorities.
Both the ruling and opposition parties must engage in thorough debate to ensure the new agency's efficacy and strive for the law's early enactment.
The focal issue is the agency's independence.
The government-sponsored bill calls for the integration of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) and the Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC), which respectively are currently under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and the Cabinet Office. The integrated entity is to be an extra-ministerial organ of the Environment Ministry, with the latter controlling budget and personnel matters. But in times of emergency, politicians will step in.
The bill proposed by the opposition Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito calls for the establishment of a highly independent "nuclear regulatory commission" in keeping with Article 3 of the National Government Organization Law. This commission is to oversee the new nuclear regulatory agency, so that the latter will remain free of political interference.
The difference between the government bill and the opposition bill boils down to whether the confusion that followed the Fukushima disaster should be blamed on the inefficacy of nuclear experts or on excessive meddling by then Prime Minister Naoto Kan and other politicians.
But investigations to date have revealed that politicians and nuclear experts alike were pathetically unprepared for the catastrophe and that both lacked the maturity to deal with it.
The government is amenable to incorporating the opposition proposal in order to expedite legislation.
We have no objections to enhancing the independence of the new agency. However, this may only lead to giving greater power to the "nuclear village" unless its denizens undergo a major transformation in awareness. It is vital to ensure the agency's independence and transparency.
And instead of just tweaking the organizational structure, steps should be taken to invite reliable advisers from abroad and groom highly capable and qualified staff.
This is just groundwork on which to build a strong system for all parties to fulfill their responsibilities and work closely together at all times.
But we have one issue with the proposed nature of the new watchdog. That is, since both the government and opposition bills leave it to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology to deal with matters concerning safeguards for the prevention of nuclear proliferation, the new agency does not come into the picture here.
Matters of national security, such as protecting the nation from potential nuclear terrorism, are inseparable from nuclear regulatory issues such as how to store and maintain spent nuclear fuel. In order for Japan to be able to cooperate fully with the rest of the world, we believe all regulatory issues should be handled by the new agency.
-- The Asahi Shimbun, May 30
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