Japan Puts Nuclear Regulation in the Hands of Environment Ministry

Mon Aug 15, 2011 10:39am EDT

by Timothy Hurst

At a time when several high profile conservative politicians in the U.S. including presidential hopefuls Michelle Bachmann and Newt Gingrich are calling for the elimination of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Japanese Government is looking to do the complete opposite and expand the authority of the Japanese Environment Ministry to include nuclear power regulation.

After being criticized for being too cozy with Japanese utility companies in the wake of the meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, nuclear regulators in Japan will soon operate as part of the Japanese Environment Ministry.

Government officials hope to place the new agency under the Ministry of the Environment as early as August 15 and have the new agency up and running by April, Asahi.com reports.

The decision is being called a significant victory for Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who has been pushing hard for greater separation between the nuclear industry and the powerful Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), the agency most recently responsible for regulating the nuclear industry via their control of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA). Kan is expected to step down as prime minister after he passes two major pieces of legislation - one outlining a new renewable energy push and the other dealing with the deficit.

The nuclear power industry in Japan is facing an uphill battle as public calls range from shutting down all of the country's thirty nuclear power plants to more transparency and scrutiny in the nuclear power sector. But the dysfunctional public relations regime that emerged in the hours, days and weeks following the accident at Fukushima Daiichi is apparently still spinning. Recent government disclosures over the last couple weeks have shed light on an extensive "astro-turfing" campaign in which electric utilities worked with government officials to stage public events and pack employees into recent public forums to sway opinion in favor of nuclear power.

Are the phony grassroots campaigns just ill-advised, knee-jerk reactions to mounting political pressure against nuclear power in Japan? Not exactly. The Wall Street Journal reports that a total of seven Japanese electric utilities are now fessing up to sending their employees to make up as much as half the audience in regional community forums.

And they've been doing so since 2005.

Reprinted with permission from Ecopolitology

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