Japan’s Change of Energy Chiefs Is Criticized as Mere Reshuffle
Japan’s decision to remove three officials in charge of energy policy isn’t enough to tackle failures that contributed to the Fukushima nuclear disaster, said a former Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry official.
Cabinet minister Banri Kaieda, who heads the ministry known as METI, said today he’ll dismiss its top bureaucrat and the heads of agencies in charge of nuclear oversight and energy policy, as part of “sweeping” changes.
“The removal of the officials is cosmetic,” Hiroyuki Kishi, a professor at the Graduate School of Media Design at Keio University and a former METI official, said by phone. “The officials being removed were due to leave the ministry as part of regular reshuffles this summer,” Kishi said.
The disaster at Fukushima capped decades of faked safety reports and fatal accidents in Japan’s atomic industry with the regulator in a conflict of interest as it was under the control of METI, which had a mandate to promote nuclear power. That conflict has been highlighted in the last week by revelations the regulator urged utilities to influence public opinion in favor of nuclear energy.
“To account for the huge mess in Fukushima, they should fire all the director generals in the ministry or dismantle it entirely,” said Kishi.
The officials being dismissed are METI Vice-Minister Kazuo Matsunaga, 59, the director general of the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, Tetsuhiro Hosono, 58, and the director general of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, Nobuaki Terasaka, 58.
Matsunaga will be replaced by Kenyu Adachi, 52, the director general of the Economic and Industrial Policy Bureau, the ministry announced today in a statement. Hosono will be replaced by Ichiro Takahara, 54, the director general of Small and Medium Enterprise Agency, while Hiroyuki Fukano, 54, the director general of Commerce and Distribution Policy Group, was appointed for the chief of NISA, according to the personnel proposal, which will be endorsed at a cabinet meeting tomorrow.
“This is not a regular reshuffle,” Kaieda said in a meeting with reporters this afternoon. “I asked these three people to step back with heartbreaking grief because we need to move forward as a new METI by refreshing personnel.”
Kaieda said he will resign as METI minister after filing official appointment and mapping out a blueprint of the new METI. The appointment will be officially given on Aug. 12, the statement said.
Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima plant has been emitting radiation since an earthquake and tsunami on March 11 knocked out power and cooling, causing three reactor meltdowns and hydrogen explosions.
The accident is rated at the highest level on a severity scale, or the same as the Chernobyl disaster in the former Soviet Union in 1986.
Tokyo Electric ignored warnings about the tsunami risks that caused the crisis at Fukushima, according to Tatsuya Ito, who represented Fukushima prefecture in the national parliament from 1991 to 2003.
Chubu Electric Power Co., one of the country’s regional electricity monopolies, said on July 29 the nuclear regulator asked the utility to prepare questions favoring atomic power for a public hearing in 2007.
Kyushu Electric Power Co. earlier said it asked staffers at affiliates to send e-mails supporting the restart of reactors to an internet-broadcast show run by METI on plant safety.
An official at NISA asked Kyushu Electric, Shikoku Electric Power Co. and Tohoku Electric Power Co. to send employees to symposium on nuclear power to influence public opinion, Kyodo News reported this week.
An independent panel may be set up as early as today to investigate the alleged attempts to sway opinion by the regulator and Japan’s power companies, Kaieda said.
“We will cooperate with the investigation when requested,” Takumi Koyamada, a NISA spokesman, said by phone. He declined to comment on any personnel changes.
NISA, which lists one of its codes of conduct as “neutrality and justice,” will be separated from METI to give it more independence, the government said last month.
“They need to step up oversight of Japan’s nuclear industry,” Tokyo-based independent political analyst Hirotada Asakawa said.
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