Japan needs independent nuke regulators

2011-05-18 18:23
Tokyo - Prime Minister Naoto Kan said on Wednesday that Japan needs to increase the independence of its nuclear regulators to ensure safety in the wake of the country's nuclear accident.

In Japan a single ministry is responsible for both promoting nuclear energy and overseeing its safety, unlike most other nuclear power-producing nations which separate the two functions.

Critics say that structure has resulted in lax oversight and may have contributed to a lack of precautions at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, which is leaking radiation after being damaged in March's massive quake and tsunami.

"Entities that promote and check nuclear energy belong to the same government institution, which raises a question of independence," Kan told a news conference where he also promised a thorough review of the nuclear power industry and its regulators.

"We don't necessarily have a sturdy structure in this regard," he said.

Culture of complacency

An Associated Press review of Japan's approach to nuclear plant safety has also revealed that closely intertwined relationships between government regulators and industry have allowed a culture of complacency to prevail.

Top government officials nearing the end of their careers often land plum jobs within the industries they regulated, giving Japan's utilities intimate familiarity with their overseers.

Top industry officials are also appointed to positions on policy-shaping government advisory panels.

Kan's comments are some of the strongest on regulatory reforms since the March 11 quake, although various other senior government officials have raised the issue.

Tokyo Electric Power Co, which operates the damaged plant, hopes to bring it to a cold, stable shutdown by early next year.
Read more on:    naoto kan  |  japan  |  japan earthquake

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