Kan calls for more independence for Japan's nuclear regulators

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Posted 5/19/11 , edited 5/19/11

Prime Minister Naoto Kan said Wednesday that Japanese nuclear reactors currently under inspection will be allowed to resume operations once their safety is confirmed, but at the same time the government needs to reinforce the independence of the country’s nuclear regulatory structures.

Kan suggested that Japan should spin off the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which was actively promoting atomic energy until the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, triggered by the March 11 earthquake and resulting tsunami.

‘‘I believe that the manner in which the country’s nuclear power has been administrated over the years must be fundamentally reviewed,’’ Kan told a news conference.

He said a third-party investigative panel on the Fukushima crisis to be launched in the immediate future will be tasked with finding ways to enhance Japan’s nuclear safety.

The premier said that the country, which relied on nuclear power for about 30% of its electricity before the accident, will promote energy-saving measures and renewable energy, such as solar and wind power, more than ever.

But he did not say that Japan, poor in natural resources, will phase out the use of nuclear energy.

Since the world’s worst nuclear accident in a quarter of a century occurred at the Fukushima complex, the government has been stepping up efforts to ensure the safety of about 50 nuclear power plants in Japan.

Over the last weekend, reactors at the Hamaoka plant in central Japan were all shut down following Kan’s request to do so out of concerns over the facility’s vulnerability to powerful earthquakes and tsunamis.

Many reactors are now undergoing regular checkups, and utilities may struggle to win approval for resuming their operations from local authorities. But Kan made it clear that the operations of reactors other than Hamaoka’s will not be halted as long as their safety is assured.

In referring to the future of the power industry, Kan said it is worth discussing whether it would be possible to change the utilities’ roles of both generating and supplying electricity.

Japanese utilities in each region control power grids—a situation which many experts have pointed to as a major reason why the spread of renewable energy in the country is slow.

On the ongoing rebuilding of areas affected by the natural disasters and the nuclear crisis, Kan said the government will hastily secure additional funds if the first extra budget of about 4 trillion yen, approved by the Diet in early May, proves to be insufficient.

He signaled that the government is exploring the possibility of submitting another supplementary budget to the current Diet session, which is to close on June 22 if not extended.

Kan said he has yet to decide whether to extend the session.

He also expressed his gratitude to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and South Korean President Lee Myung Bak for their planned visits this weekend to the disaster-stricken northeastern region, when they come to Japan to hold a summit meeting of the three countries.

The prime minister said Japan’s ties with China and South Korea have been deepening since the natural calamities.

© 2011 Kyodo News. All rights reserved. No reproduction or republication without written permission.

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