A new nuclear regulatory commission to be established next month holds the key to how safety will be administered at Japan's nuclear power plants in the future.
Shunichi Tanaka, the former acting chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission and a nominee for chairman of the new commission, voiced his views in the two houses of the Diet earlier this week.
Tanaka said the provisional safety standards that were applied to the restart of two reactors at the Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture run by Kansai Electric Power Co. are inadequate. The law to set up the new regulatory commission limits the operation of nuclear reactors to 40 years in principle. Based on this provision, Tanaka said he would strictly monitor the situation.
Although we now understand Tanaka’s basic stance, we still have many unanswered questions. As for the other four candidates nominated as commission members, there have been no forums scheduled to hear their views.
The regulatory commission is vested with strong power that does not allow political intervention concerning the safety of nuclear power plants. That is all the more reason broad public trust is indispensable. That is also why the appointment of commission members requires Diet approval.
The appointments are expected to be put to a vote next week, but why not devote more time in the Diet to hear the views of all the candidates?
For example, does the commission intend to listen to or evaluate the views of overseas experts on such matters as creating safety standards or conducting safety inspections? If so, what procedures would be used to reflect them?
Tanaka also said regulations that are stricter than international standards should be implemented in some cases. That is all the more reason we want to listen to his views in more detail.
Tanaka also conceded that up to now, measures against terrorism that target nuclear power plants lacked bite. They are far behind international standards. Moreover, political factors such as the division of roles between police and the Self-Defense Forces are also involved. How does the government plan to deal with the situation centering on the regulatory commission? Can anti-terrorism measures become a condition to determine the restart of nuclear reactors?
Among the candidates for commission membership are experts on earthquakes. It is not uncommon for experts to give different opinions over the evaluation of active faults. How will the commission judge the impact on nuclear reactors and win public understanding?
We urge Diet members to ask more questions as representatives of the public.
Some lawmakers pushing for a nuclear power-free Japan have criticized the nominees’ attitudes toward the restarts of nuclear reactors or the decommissioning of plants after 40 years, saying they are unclear. There are also moves that seek to change the proposed lineup of nominees. But before that, why not ask what all five nominees think?
The lame-duck Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency has lost public trust, but continues to evaluate the safety of nuclear reactors. This state of affairs must immediately be put to an end. Unless the new regulatory commission is launched, we cannot take a step forward in terminating the nation's dependence on nuclear power.
There must be ways to hear the views of the nominees without drastically putting off the inauguration of the commission. One of them is to hold intensive deliberations with the candidates, even for a short period.
Hasty approval to meet the busy Diet schedule will have a negative effect on winning public understanding.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 3
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