Sunday 23 September 2012

New Nuclear Watchdog

At long last we have a new Nuclear Regulatory Commission  (Genshiroku Kiseicho  原子力規制庁) to replace the discredited NISA (Hoanin  保安員). The latter was not independent, situated physically in the Ministry of Economy and Trade, and headed by ex-bureaucrats. When the shit hit the fan last March, they were exposed as unprepared and incompetent. Famously, the head of the agency assured Prime Minister Kan that there would be no explosions - then one of the reactors exploded an hour later. Then instead of letting those at the site get on with the job they interfered causing confusion. The sight of NISA officials on TV who were bureaucrats and not experts and couldn't give answers to the basic questions about our safety that we craved was a big factor in the public's loss of confidence in the government's handling of the disaster. There have been other disclosures. In 2006 when there was a review of measures to deal with accidents, the then head of the agency, afraid of raising fears over the safety of nuclear plants, is on record as saying 'Don't wake a sleeping child'.  So a fresh start is needed. 

There's been criticism of the appointment of one Tanaka Shunichi as head of the new agency. Indeed I got an e-mail from avaaz urging me to add my name to a petition to block Diet approval of the appointment. I've added my name to many avaaz campaigns but this one I won't be signing. He may be a compromise candidate but at least he's in the job and started work and there is so much to do. The old agency did some work on stress tests until this March but has done nothing since. The Prime Minister took the decision to open the Oi nuclear plants. He should have had advice from an independent organisation such as this. 

Tanaka is accused of being a member of the 'atomic village' and was indeed deputy director of the Japan Atomic Energy Research Institute and acting Chairman of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission but he did disagree with the power industry and was regarded as a 'tough customer' (Asahi Shimbun). On the plus side, he hails from Fukushima City, and since the disaster he's been active in decontamination work, scraping soil along with the best of them. He's already stated that he's going to stick with the 40 year rule for scrapping nuclear power stations and that before any more nuclear plants can be re-opened he wants to see emergency plans for 30 km round each plant, in addition to the stress tests for the reactors. And the decision that endeared him to me was that an office is to be set up next week not far from Fukushima Daiichi with 15 staff to monitor work going on there. Officials coming to live and work here! That must be a first.

The Diet was in recess so Noda made the appointments at a Cabinet meeting. There's a phrase here you hear a lot: kimaranai seiji 決まらない政治. It means that politicians aren't making decisions, nothing's getting done. At least the appointments were made and the agency is functioning. I don't want the Diet to block this and stall things. There's so much to do regarding safety: decisions over decommissioning after 40 years, investigations into the seismic faults under some of the plants, the criteria for reopening the 50 idle reactors, not to mention the safe decommissioning of Fukushima Daiichi.

The hot weather has broken at last. As of yesterday, daytime highs in the 20s, putting an end to the 30'C highs we've had for two hot and sticky months.

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