Concerns over the faces of the ‘nuclear village’ committee

A new nuclear regulation body for Japan: as the government’s deadline for its formation draws nearer, people fear an over-bureaucratic and secretive approach to electing this new safety council.

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Since the announcement of the nuclear regulatory council’s formation in June, there has been widespread protest against a new nuclear switch on in Japan, as thousands have taken to the streets and important sites in Tokyo, such as outside the Prime minister’s offices or more recently to Yoyogi Park . For this reason, the importance of creating a body of members that inspires the trust of the Japanese people post- Fukushima seems paramount and yet there are concerns that the proposed candidates are too closely connected to the previous regulatory body, which was accused of neglecting their responsibilities when it came to ensuring the safety of plants such as that in Fukushima.

According to the Wall Street Journal online other Japanese news sources, the former council, consisting mainly of a group of academics, engineers and government officials became known as the ‘nuclear village’, a name which gives strong connotations of what Japan Today has termed as cronyism within the system it controlled. Demonstrators blamed the favouritism within this ‘nuclear village’ for the failures in the Fukushima plant swept under the carpet prior to the disaster. However, despite the apparent intention to avoid recreating the formerly insular and supposedly inefficient regulating body of nuclear plants, this Thursday the government put forward the name of Shunichi Tanaka as a candidate for the new council. The suggestion has sparked great controversy as Tanaka was previously linked to and in contact with many of the members of the former ‘nuclear village’.

It is not only the suggestion of Tanaka as a candidate that has awakened concerns for the Japanese people but also the appearance that the government selection and election process for candidates is far from transparent. As a result many people are calling for the process to be opened up to the public, with live coverage of the candidates’ appraisal hearing in August to be streamed live on the internet and the widespread publication names of those attending the hearing.

The government’s defence of their decision, as reported in The Wall Street Journal online, was that people with the level of expertise necessary to evaluate the risks and safety measures of nationwide nuclear plants are few and far between, which restricts them to a given pool of people who in all likelihood would have already been in contact with former nuclear safety officials. While many people would be willing to understand this point of view, a greater openness surrounding the selection and election of the regulatory body’s members would perhaps hold the key to reconciliation between those for and against Japan’s return to nuclear energy and more importantly, the key to avoiding the level of human error and neglect that led to the Fukushima plant meltdown after the tsunami.

News sources: Japan Today online, The Wall Street Journal online

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