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Japan’s Industry Minister to Step Down After Nuclear Disaster

Japanese Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Banri Kaieda
Banri Kaieda, Japan's economy, trade and industry minister. Photographer: Haruyoshi Yamaguchi/Bloomberg

Japan’s industry minister, Banri Kaieda, said he will resign after replacing three officials in charge of energy policy and outlining a new structure for the ministry following the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The new structure will separate the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency from the Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry, addressing the conflict inherent in the dual roles of promoting and regulating the nuclear industry.

That conflict has been highlighted in the last week by revelations the regulator urged utilities to influence public opinion in favor of nuclear energy. The disaster at Fukushima capped decades of faked safety reports and fatal accidents in Japan’s atomic industry.

Kaieda said in a meeting with reporters yesterday that the dismissal of the ministry’s top bureaucrat and the heads of agencies in charge of nuclear oversight and energy policy are part of “sweeping” changes.

The outgoing officials are Kazuo Matsunaga, 59, the ministry’s vice minister; Tetsuhiro Hosono, 58, director general of the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy; and Nobuaki Terasaka, 58, the director general of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.

Leadership Shuffle

The leadership change isn’t enough to tackle failures that contributed to the Fukushima disaster, according to a former industry ministry official.

“To account for the huge mess in Fukushima, they should fire all the director generals in the ministry, or dismantle it entirely,” said Hiroyuki Kishi, now a professor at the Graduate School of Media Design at Keio University. He described the move as “cosmetic,” saying the bureaucrats were due to leave the ministry as part of a regular reshuffle.

The new appointments will be made from within the ministry. Kenyu Adachi, 52, director general of the Economic and Industrial Policy Bureau, will replace Matsunaga. Hosono will be replaced by Ichiro Takahara, 54, director general of the Small and Medium Enterprise Agency, while Hiroyuki Fukano, 54, the director general of Commerce and Distribution Policy Group, will be appointed chief of the Nuclear Industrial Safety Agency, or NISA.

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.

Kaieda said he will step down sometime after the appointments become official, which the ministry said would be Aug. 12, and after an outline for the new ministry structure is in place.

Emitting Radiation

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, 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

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.

A NISA official asked Kyushu Electric, Shikoku Electric Power Co. and Tohoku Electric Power Co. to send employees to a symposium on nuclear power to influence public opinion, Kyodo News reported this week.

An independent panel may be set up 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,” said Takumi Koyamada, a NISA spokesman reached by telephone.

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