New Japanese regulator takes over

19 September 2012

A new nuclear regulatory regime came into force in Japan today. The Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) has been created in response to shortcomings identified in the country's previous regulatory structure after the Fukushima accident.

New Japanese regulators at Fukushima (Tepco)
The newly-appointed commissioners of the NRA toured the damaged Fukushima Daiichi power plant last week (Image: Tepco)

Shortcomings in Japan's regulatory regime identified after Fukushima prompted the government to announce in August 2011 that it would develop a new regulatory structure. The reputation of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) was damaged by a number of factors. Chief among these has been the perceived failure to require preparation for tsunamis of the scale of that seen on 11 March, but also accusations that some nuclear companies unfairly influenced public debates - and that NISA had encouraged this on at least one occasion. In addition, NISA's location within METI was seen as giving it an insufficient level of independence and fostering a potential conflict of interest for METI as both promoter and regulator of nuclear energy.

All change

Under Japan's previous regulatory structure, the country's nuclear industry was regulated by the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), itself part of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). NISA was overseen by the Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC), which was itself responsible for formulating safety policy, and the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), which was responsible for nuclear power and research policy. The NSC and AEC were both part of the Cabinet Office.

Under the new system, the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) is part of the Ministry of Environment and will be overseen by the Nuclear Safety Investigation Committee (NSIC).

The NRA - which comes under the Ministry of Environment - has now been created in a move designed to separate nuclear regulation and nuclear promotion functions. It will unify relevant functions from different existing ministries and will now be responsible for nuclear safety, security, safeguards, radiation monitoring and radioisotopes regulation. It will have its own independent staff of 500 and an annual budget of ¥50 billion (about $600 million). Also coming under the remit of the Ministry of the Environment will be the new Nuclear Safety Investigation Committee (NSIC), which will review the effectiveness of the NRA and be responsible for the investigation of nuclear accidents.

The five-member commission that will head the NRA was appointed last week by prime minister Yoshihiko Noda. The new Japanese commission mimics the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Shunichi Tanaka was appointed as chairman, while Kenzo Oshima, Kunihiko Shimazaki, Kayoko Nakamura and Toyoshi Fuketa became commissioners.

Tanaka noted, "The Nuclear Regulation Authority has started in the situation where public trust on nuclear regulation has been completely lost. It is our primary responsibility to conduct stricter regulation while readily admitting stern eyes from the public." He added, "We will always bear in mind that accidents beyond our expectation may occur, and tirelessly improve all the regulations so that Japan's nuclear regulation is to be the highest standard in the world."

On a personal note, Tanaka said: "I always think of the people who live their everyday life with anxiety under the effects of radiation. I have determined that all my experience and knowledge, such as the experience of the JCO criticality accident, will be used to ensure nuclear safety in the new regulatory authority."

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News