社説:原子力新規制 既得権益の見直しも

(Mainichi Japan) February 1, 2012
Editorial: Nuclear regulatory reform must weed out entrenched interests
社説:原子力新規制 既得権益の見直しも

Bills relating to a shift in the nation's nuclear power policy were approved by the Cabinet on Jan. 31. In addition to the establishment of a new nuclear regulatory agency under the Environment Ministry, the government is aiming to legislate the lifespan of nuclear reactors, and require plant operators to outline specific measures against severe nuclear accidents.

Significant harm has been done by allowing the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), an administrative body tasked to regulate nuclear power safety, to exist under the umbrella of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), a major promoter of nuclear power.

Divorcing nuclear regulation from nuclear promotion and centralizing regulatory duties into one agency stands to reason.

Changing the agency's name from the originally proposed "nuclear power safety agency" to "nuclear power regulatory agency" is likewise pertinent, considering the new agency's nature.

However, the mere alteration of a name and rearrangement of an organization will not result overnight in a highly independent agency specializing in regulation.

Because many of the new agency staff members are likely to come from NISA, specific measures are necessary to secure the independence of the new body.

It remains unclear how a nuclear safety investigation committee, envisaged in one of the bills approved by the Cabinet, will contribute toward ensuring the safety of nuclear power.

Since the Cabinet Office's Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC) lost the confidence of the Japanese public over its response to the ongoing nuclear disaster, the new committee cannot expect to gain it back without demonstrating its independence and competence.

The handling of the continuing nuclear crisis has been problematic particularly due to the government's lack of readiness, which has generated suspicions that the disaster could have been mitigated had the government been more capable of crisis management.

Crisis management will be an important duty of the new regulatory agency, and must be attended to adequately.

Meanwhile, some things have slipped through the centralization of regulatory responsibilities.

Safety research conducted by the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) and the inspections and other safeguards implemented by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology to prevent the diversion of nuclear material toward the production of nuclear weapons will not fall under the jurisdiction of the new regulatory agency.

It remains to be seen how these tasks will be integrated into the new scheme.

Included in the latest bills are the designation of a 40-year lifespan for nuclear reactors and the implementation of "back-fit" measures that would hold existing reactors to the latest technological standards.

The government claims that the combination of these two mandates would make it extremely difficult for reactors to continue running more than 40 years.

The bills, however, include special exemptions allowing reactors to operate for up to 60 years.

Stringent criteria must be set to prevent "exceptions" from undermining the rule.

We hope also that the proposed legal reforms lead to a stronger nuclear disaster prevention scheme.

In the case of the Fukushima disaster, the off-site emergency response center failed to function.

A fundamental review of Japan's nuclear crisis preparedness is imperative.

Along with an expansion of disaster protection zones emphasizing nuclear disaster countermeasures, there is a pressing need to reassess national and regional disaster prevention plans.

Numerous corporations and organizations make up the national framework that had heretofore promoted nuclear power, and their role in "amakudari" -- literally "descent from heaven," referring to the practice of former bureaucrats taking advisory posts in industries they previously regulated -- has been pointed out.

For effective regulations to gain ground, it is important to extend reform to such organizations with entrenched interests.

毎日新聞 2012年2月1日 東京朝刊

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