Regulatory shake-up in Japan

16 August 2011

Japan is beginning work on a new regulatory structure for its nuclear energy industry with competence centralised in a body linked to the Ministry of the Environment.


An outline of the future system was announced yesterday by the Cabinet Office, which plans to reveal a new organisational structure in April next year.


The reputation of the existing Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) has been 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 current location within the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) is 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.


A complete review of nuclear safety regulations and practices is seen as the essential foundation on which to rebuild public trust.


NISA is currently overseen by two other bodies, the Nuclear Safety Commission that sets overall safety policy, and the Atomic Energy Commission that sets nuclear power and research policy. Both of these are part of the Cabinet Office. The new arrangement will combine NISA with the Nuclear Safety Commission to form a centralised nuclear safety executive with improved functionality.


At the moment the most likely part of government structure for the new regulator to reside would be the Ministry of the Environment, where monitoring work at least is a natural fit. It is likely, however, that the regulator will be established as an independent entity, and not influenced directly by the ministry.


The likely name for the new regulator is the Office of Nuclear Safety. It will be responsible for administering regulation of nuclear fuel and nuclear reactors, safety, security, emergency response and environmental monitoring.


It will also operate the SPEEDI radioactive dispersal prediction system, which was not effectively used during the early days of the Fukushima accident, despite its results being publicly available online. Certain basic input data was missing, meaning results were based on an incomplete picture and leading scientists to advise against acting on its predictions. SPEEDI did give early warning of radioactive disposition in areas outside the 20 kilometre evacuation zone, but the Japanese government considered the information too confusing and unreliable to announce and act upon.


Researched and written
by World Nuclear News