Japanese government undermines the independence of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission

On July 20, Japanese government announced five members for the new Nuclear Regulatory Commission (原子力規制委員会), scheduled to begin operating in September. The head of the group is Mr. Shunichi Tanaka, the former vice chairman of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission as well as the president of the Atomic Energy Society of Japan. Both organizations have been the core in promoting nuclear energy in Japan.

While a few restrictions for members’ eligibility are set, they do not truly promote the neutrality of the commission. For example, the members are prohibited to have received more than 500,000 yen (about $4,000) a year from the nuclear industry or been board members or workers in the industry in last three years. However, this minor restriction does not really secure the independence of the agency.

In fact, Mr. Tanaka has been very much a part of the “nuclear power village” comprised of bureaucrats, scholars, and industry members to promote the nuclear energy in Japan. Another member of the commission, Mr. Toyoshi Fuketa, was reported to have received about 100,000 yen since 2003 from the Japan Atomic Power Company.

Starting September, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will be established under Ministry of the Environment. The current administration keeps mentioning that the new commission will retain the level of independence. But as seen in the selection of its members, the neutrality or independence does not seem to be its priority.

The appointment of Mr. Tanaka and four commissioners has been suspended due to the leak of the information to Yomiuri, Nikkei, and NHK on July 20. The rule indicates that if the names of appointee are disclosed before the Diet, the Diet will not receive the administration’s appointment. So the current process has stopped.

Of course, the mishap in the procedure is not the major problem. The problem is that the current appointees already have vested interests in the “nuclear power village.”

The process to establish the independent agency has been one tug-of-war between the current administration/bureaucrats and the Liberal Democratic/New Komeito Party. The latter strongly demanded the agency be set up more in line with those found in the U.S., France, and Germany, which maintain a strong independence from government. Their effort brought some important changes in the final bill passed in the end of June.

The role of the regulatory commission is very important. One of the major reasons for the disaster at Fukushima Daiichi was a lack of the strong regulatory system in the nuclear industry. In the government, there were multiple regulatory agencies seeking their own interest. As for one, the Nuclear and Industry Safety Agency belonged to Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, protecting, not regulating, the nuclear industry.

Unless the new regulatory industry is able to be the true watchdog of the nuclear industry, Japan is likely to face another Fukushima. The disaster at Fukushima Daiichi has contaminated the soil, water, and ocean, causing the great international and domestic damage. And we cannot afford that sort of crisis economically as well as spiritually.

Despite the concerned voices heard outside of the Prime Minister’s office, the current administration is determined to restart as many nuclear reactors as possible. Of course, there are limits as to what the citizens’ demonstrations can do to effect actual changes. That is why the regulatory agency’s role is vital to the safety and protection of the national interest.

Several nuclear plants are approaching their forty year limit. And yet, the current administration and bureaucrats are eager to create “exceptions” to continue operating these old reactors. For example, the Nuclear and Industry Safety Agency acknowledged the operation of the second reactor of Mihama Nuclear Power Plant, which will exceed its fortieth year on July 25. The decision should have been postponed until the start of the new regulatory commission.

There also has been a few talks over the possibility of active faults under the nuclear plants in Shika (Ishikawa Pref.) and Oi (Fukui Pref.). The case of Oi plant has been known before its infamous restart, but the administration went ahead with it anyway.

The establishment of the neutral and independent regulatory commission is crucial to the safe energy and nuclear usage in Japan. The establishment of a true regulatory agency has a greater implication.

Japan’s Nuclear Disaster Due to Collusion

Japan’s Fukushima nuclear crisis was a preventable disaster resulting from “collusion” among the government, regulators and the plant operator, an expert panel said on Thursday, wrapping up an inquiry into the worst nuclear accident in 25 years.

Damage from the huge March 11, 2011, earthquake, and not just the ensuing tsunami, could not be ruled out as a cause of the accident, the panel added, a finding with serious potential implications as Japan seeks to bring idled reactors on line.

The panel criticized the response of Fukushima Daiichi plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co, regulators and then Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who quit last year after criticism of his handling of a natural disaster that became a man-made crisis.

Read the rest of the story: Japan’s atomic disaster due to collusion: panel report.

Frustrated Japanese Shareholders Speak Out

To say that Yui Kimura is a distressed investor might be an understatement: She is a small shareholder in the operator of the nuclear power plant at Fukushima, Tokyo Electric Power, whose shares have lost nine-tenths of their value.

Now, she would like the company to at least face up to its responsibilities to the more than 100,000 people who have been driven from their homes after the tsunami disaster. She co-sponsored four resolutions at the annual shareholders’ meeting Wednesday, including one demanding that the company decommission all of its nuclear reactors.

“As the company behind a devastating disaster, we feel it needs to go that distance,” she said.

Read the rest of the story: Japanese Shareholders Starting to Show Their Teeth.

Cutting Elderly Entitlements: Why Japan Can Lead the Way

In his classic The Constitution of Liberty F.A. Hayek points to inflation as one of the most pernicious ways government usurps the power of individuals to support themselves in retirement and increases dependency upon government-provided welfare systems.  Writing in 1960, he showed how government-caused inflation had eroded—sometimes by two-thirds or more–the purchasing power of savings of a typical retiree in Germany, France, or the U.S.

In these circumstances, even people with a moral or ethical will to save and to remain independent of the state had been essentially robbed of this option by government actions, and—to make matters worse, if not hopeless—had been corrupted into becoming an interest group pushing for larger government welfare programs.

Read the rest of the story: Cutting Old Age Entitlements: Why Japan Can Lead the Way.

Japan might remain nuclear-free forever

On May 5, Japan’s last operating nuclear reactor was shut down, turning it into a nuclear energy-free country. The government is working desperately to restart two reactors in the town of Oi in Fukui Prefecture, but the outcome is difficult to predict.

In fact, some think Japan’s nuclear-free status might not only survive the summer of 2012, but become a fact of life forever.

Until a few weeks ago such a scenario seemed unthinkable. The list of arguments for keeping atomic energy is long.

Read the rest of the story: For better or worse, Japan might remain nuclear-free forever.

Japan investing?

If you have extra money or receive unexpected income, would you put it in your savings bank account or attempt to multiply it by investing?

Ask the same question of Japanese consumers, and you may have a different perspective. Japan has been traditionally a country of savings, not outstanding exactly for its people’s successful investing skills. A lot of people still seem to prefer saving to investing, thinking investing is a form of “gambling”.

Saving was once a virtue in Japan, with people during the l970s saving 20 per cent of their disposable income. The rate dropped to 15 per cent in the l990s and today to a few per cent in the staggering economy.

Read the rest of the story: Japan losing investing fever.

If Japan Is Broke, Why Is It Able to Bail Out Europe?

Not so long ago Japan was being portrayed as the deadbeat of the world financial system. Seems there is still some life — and money — in the island empire.

If you want to understand Japan, try watching what people do rather than listen to what they say. More even than in  other parts of the world there is a difference — and  what people do is, of course, a far more useful insight into their true situation. It is interesting therefore to note that as the International Monetary Fund wound down  its semi-annual meeting in Washington yesterday, the Japanese government emerged as by far the largest single non-eurozone contributor to the latest  euro rescue effort.  Yes, this is the same government that has been going round pretending to be bankrupt or at least offering no serious rebuttal when benighted American and British commentators portray Japanese public finances as a train wreck.

Read the rest of the story: If Japan Is Broke, How Is It Bailing Out Europe?.

Japan Opinions: BTW, Get Ready for a 34 Meter Tsunami

Sometimes it is better to leave the TV off.   This is how I have felt since Saturday, the day that Japan’s Cabinet Office chose to announce new predictions for earthquakes and tsunamis for which Japanese citizens “should make preparations.”  From the shocking scale of death and devastation which the predictions intimate, however, the only “preparations” that would be practical, or even possible, would be life insurance and tombstones.

At a televised news conference, the long-haired academics on the government’s Central Disaster Management Council duly presented data and graphics (above, from the Yomiuri Shimbun) predicting a tsunami of 10 meters or higher could strike 11 prefectures, including Tokyo, and an earthquake with an intensity of 7—the highest level on the Japanese seismic scale—in the event of a “simultaneous triple quake” along the Nankai Trough.  The “triple quake” refers to quakes in three sections of the trough, Tokai, Tonankai, and Nankai.  The entire trough stretches from Suruga Bay along areas off Shikoku and Kyushu.

Read the rest of the story: BTW, Get Ready for a 34 Meter Tsunami.

Antinuke protests erupt nationwide across Japan

Thousands of antinuclear protesters took to the streets of Tokyo and other cities Sunday, the first anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami that triggered the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant.

Near the head office of Tokyo Electric Power Co., which runs the crippled complex, demonstrators called for the country to abandon nuclear power and restore the prefecture, where more than 100,000 residents were forced to relocate.

In Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, some 16,000 people attended an antinuclear gathering in the city and called for scrapping all of Japan’s 54 commercial reactors, which provided a third of its electricity before the Fukushima disaster.

Read the rest of the story: Antinuke protests erupt nationwide.


Keeping it cozy, poor lives in wealthy Japan

Question: What am I doing outside my home at 6 a.m. with a gas can, a pump, and stalactites under my nose?

Answer: Im swearing.I know, this is only half the answer, but at zero degrees Celsius my brain has the tendency to freeze up. Give me a minute to thaw out and Ill elaborate later . . .

According to some people, Japan is already living in the future. I beg to differ. While Japan is a technological giant and our rabbit-hutch houses are bursting with the latest electronic gadgets, the quality of life in this country could be much better if we enjoyed the same basic services people take for granted in the West. Even in Italy — where I come from — the seemingly never-ending recession rarely prevents many people from enjoying rather high living standards. After all, the average Italian lives in a well-built house, with plenty of space to stretch out and relax, and plenty of free time to actually enjoy it.

Read the rest of the story: A winters tale: cold homes, poor lives in wealthy Japan.