Post-Fukushima nuke watchdog outrages Japanese

NRA appointee Satoru Tanaka's financial ties to the nuclear industry provoke howls from environmentalists and opposition politicians

Japan’s parliament, the Diet, approved a controversial government appointee to the country’s nuclear watchdog agency on Wednesday (June 11).

Satoru Tanaka, a 64-year-old professor of nuclear engineering, will start his job as commissioner with the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) in September.

The staunch supporter of nuclear power has deep ties to the nuclear industry and has accepted tens of thousands of dollars from affiliated companies over the years.

The appointment—protested loudly from political-opposition and environmentalist quarters—comes against a backdrop of growing pressure from government and industry to restart many of the country’s 48 offline commercial nuclear reactors.

The NRA must review and approve all nuclear-reactor startups.

The plants were shut down after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that caused three nuclear-reactor-core meltdowns and an ongoing crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear-power plant 250 kilometres north of Tokyo.

Since then, Japan, which is largely dependent on foreign sources to fill its energy needs, has had to import more fossil fuels, mostly liquefied natural gas and thermal coal, along with some crude oil, to make up for the electricity that nuclear power used to supply (about 30 percent).

New NRA commissioner terms extended 

The upper house, the House of Councillors, also approved appointee Akira Ishiwatari, 61, a geologist and professor at Tohoku University, in a majority vote at a plenary meeting. Both of the commissioner appointments to the five-member NRA cleared the lower house, the House of Representatives, the previous day, according to the Japan News.

The outgoing commissioners served two-year terms; the new terms are for five years. The two other commissioners’ three-year terms expire in 2015, and NRA chairman Shunichi Tanaka’s five-year tenure ends in 2017. It is widely expected that the ruling Shinzō Abe administration will then appoint Satoru Tanaka as chair.

Ishiwatari is taking the place of commissioner Kenzo Oshima, 71, a former undersecretary-general at the UN.

It is the appointment of Tanaka, though, and the pending retirement of the person he is replacing, Kunihiko Shimazaki, that has led to accusations of bias, especially from opposition politicians, anti-nuclear activists, and Fukushima Prefecture residents and evacuees.

Fukushima residents angered

Hiroaki Kanno, 66, a Fukushima doctor who evacuated from Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, told the Asahi Shimbun on June 11: “The personnel replacement is advantageous to those who want to restart reactors, and will render the current nuclear regulations ineffective."

Another Fukushima Prefecture resident, former teacher Ruiko Muto, 60, from Tamura, said Abe is breaking rules introduced by the previous administration led by the Democratic Party of Japan. “It is lunacy that the Abe administration is attempting to appoint Tanaka, an obviously ineligible figure, as commissioner,” she told the left-of-centre Asahi Shimbun, Japan's second-largest newspaper.

Nuclear industry disliked outgoing commissioner

The departing Shimazaki (currently NRA acting chairman) is a 68-year-old seismologist whose exacting standards for safety reviews and nuclear-facility inspections have drawn criticism and anger from nuclear-industry officials and the business community in general, especially from areas that received economic benefits from nuclear-reactor complexes.

His demand for upgrades in forecasts for earthquake risk sank plans for an early restart of Kyushu Electric Power Co.'s Sendai reactor in Kagoshima Prefecture. This reactor is expected to be one of the first in Japan to come back online, perhaps in several months. The Asahi Shimbun quoted an unnamed Kyushu executive as saying: "Shimazaki made us suffer."

In a May 28 editorial, conservative newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan’s largest, wrote of Shimazaki: “He has issued extremely detailed instructions at nearly every safety review session. Doing so makes progress in conducting efficient safety inspections difficult. Shimazaki’s attitude toward safety reviews has been characterized by unscientific thinking. This issue was evident, for instance, in his demand during a review regarding an active fault under Japan Atomic Power Co.’s Tsuruga nuclear power station in Fukui Prefecture. He insisted it must be proven that the fault underneath the facility is never active.”

The depth of official disapproval  of Shimazaki became apparent when the ruling LDP's deputy policy chief, Yasuhisa Shiozaki, said at a May 9 policy-committee meeting: "While it is acceptable to have seismologists on the NRA, the same cannot be said for someone who knows absolutely nothing about nuclear energy."

Activists say NRA compromised

Tomoko Abe, an antinuclear politician and alternative-energy activist, told Reuters news agency on June 10: “Bringing someone like [Tanaka] on as a regulator changes the fundamental role of the NRA. This nomination could undermine the very role of the regulator.”

And antinuclear activist Tetsunari Iida, executive director of Japan’s Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies, also told the news agency: “The main objective of this shuffle is to remove commissioner Shimazaki. The industry would never be satisfied if he wasn’t replaced.”

Shimazaki has not spoken publicly about his retirement from the authority.

Fukushima disaster gave birth to NRA

In September 2012, the then-ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) established the NRA to salvage the public trust and resolve organizational conflicts regarding nuclear-safety regulation and administration after the 2011 disaster.

The NRA replaced the Nuclear Safety Commission and the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), both of which were widely perceived as being friendly with the nuclear industry. Because NISA had reported to the federal body responsible for promoting nuclear power in Japan, the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI), the new NRA was put under the umbrella of the Ministry of Environment.

Soon after, in December of 2012, the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan (LDP), led by current prime minister Shinzō Abe, came to power. Abe is in favour of restarting the country’s nuclear reactors, and Tanaka—who spoke of rebooting the reactors just eight months after Fukushima—told the Asahi Shimbun in 2012: “Nuclear energy is still a technology that is needed in terms of energy security as well as for its contributions to the industrial sector.”

All nuke reboots must get NRA approval

The new agency had a mandate to review existing nuclear-safety standards and establish new safety rules. It imposed new standards in July 2013, and Japan’s electrical utilities have pledged to spend $15 billion to upgrade their plants.

The NRA also must review safety applications to approve restarts of the idled nuclear reactors; all must pass the reviews before resuming operations. The Asahi Shimbun reported on May 28 that the NRA had received applications to reactivate 18 reactors at 11 nuclear-power plants. None have been approved so far, although a new application on June 10—the day before the Diet’s expected approval of Tanaka—by Tohoku Electric Power Co. to restart its Higashidori plant in Aomori Prefecture attracted criticism because the NRA is currently investigating whether or not a seismically active geologic fault runs under the plant.

The Japan Times (May 27) said Tohoku took the plant offline for “routine maintenance and inspections” just weeks before the Fukushima No. 1 events in 2011 and wants to restart to “ensure a stable power supply in its service area”. Tohoku claims that the geologic fault is inactive.

(The authority has also examined faults underneath Japan Atomic Power Co.’s Tsuruga plant and Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Oi plant, both in Fukui Prefecture.)

Appointee received nuclear-industry cash

The Xinhua news agency reported on June 11 that the DPJ and six other, smaller parties voted as an opposition bloc, in vain, against Tanaka’s appointment due to alleged “financial improprieties with energy-related organizations, including Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), operator of the disaster-hit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex”.

Tanaka, a professor since 1994 in the University of Tokyo’s department of nuclear engineering and management, is a former president of the Atomic Energy Society of Japan, a former chair of the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum, and, according to World Nuclear News (June 10), has advised a research foundation supported by TEPCO. Asahi Shimbun has reported that Tanaka also served on METI nuclear-energy committees.

What has many critics upset regarding Tanaka’s NRA appointment are reports (Japan Times, June 7) that TEPCO donated about $1,170,000 over four years (2008 to 2011) to support a University of Tokyo nuclear-fuel-cycle course taught by Tanaka to train people for the industry (the course was dropped after the Fukushima crisis).

"Research grants" came from nuke builders

As well, a Reuters public-information request to Tokyo University revealed that between 2004 and 2010, Tanaka received research grants totalling $58,500 from Hitachi Ltd.’s nuclear division, Hitachi GE Nuclear Energy Ltd., and Electric Power Development Co. Ltd., which is building a nuclear plant in northern Japan. And Japan’s Jiji news service reported that the TEPCO Memorial Foundation (set up by Tokyo Electric Power’s predecessor company) paid Tanaka about $30,000 over five years until March 31, 2012.

In addition, the professor accepted almost $20,000 from Taiheiyo Consultant Co., a company that researches disposal of nuclear waste.

Hideyuki Ban, of Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center, told Reuters on June 10 that even though there have always been ties between academics and industry, “it is a matter of the degree of money you receive.”

NRA conflict rule ignored by Abe administration

When the Democratic Party of Japan established the NRA, then–prime minister Naoto Kan implemented a rule to prevent conflicts of interest. It stopped anyone from becoming an NRA commissioner who had been employed by a nuclear organization in the three preceding years, which was defined as someone receiving $5,000 per year from the nuclear industry during that time period.

It appears that the Liberal Democratic Party has ignored that rule.

Tanaka has not responded to most requests for interviews, and when he has spoken he has not answered questions about his suitability as an unbiased candidate for NRA commissioner.

Comments (10) Add New Comment
General Gamble
That cronism would be even part of this is a real and present danger.
Dear friends,

We are on the beginning of a chapter that will make a lot of progress in fixing the meltdown at Fukushima. The progress in machines for flexible lasers and Crain machines, which is an Idea I am spreading here, could be used to remove the entire building without human beings having to get close.

I preface in my articles that you could use any type of robot you want on the Crain robot, but I suggest arm, saw, and cement cannon from any direction.

In order to see my videos in English look a “General Gamble” youtube channel. Or look for “Let’s fix Fukushima June crain robots”, for the most resent videos.

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Rating: -18
G.R.L. Cowan
Meanwhile, the Japanese government continues to receive $140 million per *month* in windfall natural gas tax revenue that it will lose when the NRA ceases to find excuses for it to keep Japan's nuclear power switched off. I suspect none of the damned hypocrites are saying a word about *that* conflict of interest.
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Chuck vereta
Rubbish. Reactors need to start soon. It's proven that no deaths occurred because of this ccident and also note this wash first generation (1960's) reactor. We need investment in nuclear to make it cleaner...not the other way around and preventing it. Hurry up and start so we can have a new phase of nuclear growth, with sustainable improvement in safety and standards.
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Chuck macghee
Too bad people in power in japan are so corrupt and short sighted, it realy compromises the elitist nature of japanese society to be asias fools
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If anyone hasn't seen it, Akira Kurasawa's "Dreams" is a must see
http://dvd.netflix.com/Movie/Akira-Kurosawa-s-Dreams/60026992 It predicts Fukishima and its aftermath with devastating accuracy. And what it predicts that hasn't happened yet could, if we let this go without learning from it.
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@chucky verata
Hanford needs bright minds like yours:

http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-26658719

Jerk
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steve nienhaus
Nuclear plants in Japan and everywhere in the world should be shut due to safety concerns. There is no way to ever make the nuclear industry safe enough to continue operations. It has to be shut down immediately!
The monkey business going on in Japan shows just how corrupt the Japanese government is and the power of the Nuke lobby over there. They have destroyed the Nation of Japan and now demand to restart their filthy machines again in the face of millions of casualties while all the while lying to the world and their own citizens. Sickening disgusting corprotists with no moral compasses whatsoever.
Down with the nuclear industry world wide! END IT!
Down with GE Shut down all GE reactors world wide. Shut down GE in America. GE KNOWS THEIR REACTORS ARE NOT SAFE!
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Millions of casualties?!?
Funny, I'm counting approximately zero give or take a dozen due to radiation (so far) and anticipating fewer than if they switch to 100% coal burning (deaths due to air pollution, mining accidents, etc.)

Please don't exaggerate the issue - it is a serious enough one already.


And if the world-wide nuclear industry is shut down immediately - then what?

Any idea of how much oil, coal, and gas will need to be burned to replace that energy? I doubt very much that you do have an idea, but surely it'd drive the prices of energy sky-high, result in tremendous increases of pollution (including co2).

Likely drive up fuel prices, hence food prices too.


I fear Japan does need to restart their reactors, but they (and all other countries (and industries)) need strong regulation - for their own long-term benefit.
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blah
Based on the risks of nuclear power it simply is not safe to use it. By using nuclear we are sacrificing the possible health and well being of ourselves and the planet. Surely, there is a better alternative?
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June
There is no such thing as a 100% safe nuclear reactor. There are, however, degrees of safety, and measures that can be taken to make the reactors relatively safer. From the very beginning, the Fukushima plant was neither properly planned nor properly executed. If during the construction process they had taken the proper steps, built the newest models, used all of the correct pipes, and so on and so forth, it's likely we wouldn't be where we are now. I say we because this isn't just a Japanese problem anymore, it's a global issue. Who knows when the effects of the radioactive water seeping into the ocean daily will be seen. But alas, I digress.

What I wanted to say is that completely abandoning nuclear power, at least at this point in time, would have various disastrous effects. With strong regulation (that is actually followed) and better planning (both construction wise and crisis wise), restarting the plants in Japan and maintaining those in other nations would be alright.
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