* Post-Fukushima agency's reputation tested as reactor
* New commissioner Tanaka has received nearly $100,000 in
funding from industry
* Industry funding for academic research in Japan not
* Stern critic of nuclear safety practices Shimazaki to exit
By Mari Saito and Kentaro Hamada
TOKYO, June 10 Japanese legislators approved a
reshuffle at the nuclear safety regulator including appointing a
commissioner who has received nearly $100,000 from
nuclear-related entities over the past decade to fund his
Among the two commissioners stepping down from the
five-member panel at the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), one
is a fierce critic of safety practices in the industry.
Opponents said the changes, which were approved on Tuesday,
undermined Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's commitment to an
independent watchdog at a time when utilities are pushing to
restart their idled reactors.
The NRA's independence is under scrutiny as it reviews
applications to restart reactors, all 48 of which were shut in
the wake of the 2011 Fukushima disaster.
The commission was set up as an independent agency after
Fukushima to replace a regulator seen as too close to the
industry and to an energy ministry that promoted atomic power.
Since then, utilities have pledged more than $15 billion to
upgrade equipment and facilities.
Japan's lower house of parliament, where Abe has a majority,
approved his government's nomination of Satoru Tanaka, a nuclear
engineering professor at the University of Tokyo and a proponent
of nuclear power.
It also approved geologist Akira Ishiwatari, whose candidacy
generated little controversy. The upper house is expected to
also give them the greenlight.
Industry analysts said any nuclear energy expert in Japan
would have received funding from the industry given the decades
of close ties between utilities and Japanese academia.
"But it is a matter of the degree of money you receive,"
said Hideyuki Ban of Citizens' Nuclear Information Center, a
non-profit anti-nuclear group.
Tanaka did not respond to e-mailed requests for comment on
the donations, which were detailed in financial disclosures and
Japanese media. Tokyo University would not provide contact
information for him, citing privacy concerns.
"Bringing someone like (Tanaka) on as a regulator changes
the fundamental role of the NRA," said Tomoko Abe, an
independent anti-nuclear lawmaker not related to the prime
"This nomination could undermine the very role of the
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said last month that
the nominees were the "best people for the job, who can fulfil
their roles from an independent, scientifically unbiased and
Akihiro Sawa, a research director at the 21st Century Public
Policy Institute, a think tank affiliated with Japan's biggest
business lobby Keidanren, defended Tanaka.
"Academic institutions now encourage professors to get
research funds and it's very competitive, so his background
should not be judged purely on the outside funds he has
received," said Sawa.
YEARS OF FUNDING
Tanaka, who was not at parliament on Tuesday, had sought to
dispel concerns about his candidacy.
He recently told public broadcaster NHK: "If I am approved,
I will take into account mistakes from the Fukushima accident
and I will do my utmost by utilising all my experience."
Eight months after Fukushima, he was one of the first
experts to say it may be safe to consider atomic energy again,
according to remarks he made to a government panel on energy.
Between the 2004 and 2010 fiscal years, Tanaka received 6
million yen ($58,500 at current exchange rates) for research
from three firms according to disclosures made by Tokyo
University in response to a public information request from
Reuters: Electric Power Development Co Ltd, known as
J-Power, which is building a nuclear plant in northern Japan;
reactor maker Hitachi Ltd's nuclear division; and
Hitachi GE Nuclear Energy Ltd.
Japan's Jiji news service said Tanaka also received around 3
million yen over five years to March 31, 2012 from the Tepco
Memorial Foundation, an organisation set up by the predecessor
company to Fukushima operator Tokyo Electric Power, or
Tepco. A foundation spokesman said Tanaka had been paid for
judging research grants but declined to give an amount.
Tokyo University said it had no information on any possible
payment from the Tepco foundation, as this would be Tanaka's
In disclosures to the NRA in April, Tanaka said he received
at least 500,000 yen in the year to March 2012 from the
foundation. NRA nominees are only required to disclose funding
received in the past three years.
For the year to March 2012, Tanaka told the NRA he also
received a total of 1.1 million yen from Hitachi GE Nuclear
Energy and Taiheiyo Consultant, an engineering firm.
None of the original NRA commissioners received funds from a
utility or nuclear plant operator for their research in the
three years leading up to their appointment, according to
disclosures made when the NRA was set up.
Commissioner Toyoshi Fuketa received about 1.5 million yen
in fiscal 2009-10 from Nuclear Fuel Industries for research he
did with Japan's sole producer of nuclear fuel, an NRA filing
The NRA's most critical voice, seismologist Kazuhiko
Shimazaki, will retire in September after two years as its
deputy, a period in which he angered the industry with safety
demands that in one case effectively scuttled a reactor restart.
Activists and some NRA officials had hoped Shimazaki would
remain, sources with direct knowledge of the matter said. But
the government said he and a former Japanese ambassador to the
United Nations, Kenzo Oshima, wanted to leave at the end of
their two-year terms.
Shimazaki has not spoken publicly about his retirement and
the NRA declined to make him available for comment. It's not
clear who will be the NRA's new deputy.
"The main objective of this shuffle is to remove
commissioner Shimazaki," said Tetsunari Iida, executive director
of Japan's Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies, an
anti-nuclear group. "The industry would never be satisfied if he
An official at a utility who asked not to be identified
because of the sensitivity of the topic called
Shimazaki's retirement a "small victory" and said utilities
hoped restarts would now move ahead quickly.
The first restart, at the Sendai reactor on Japan's island
of Kyushu, is expected to be approved in the coming months after
the utility resubmitted its application following demands from
Shimazaki to upgrade its assumptions over earthquake risk.
The NRA chairman acknowledged the regulator was under
pressure "from all different directions".
"We have worked together to create the functions and the
independence of the regulator," Shunichi Tanaka, who is no
relation to the new commissioner, told a recent news conference.
"This is a groundbreaking thing, and we will all work toward
($1 = 102.52 yen)
(Editing by William Mallard and Dean Yates)