Report on the struggle of a Nuclear Power Subcommittee member: Government’s ban on release of video of deliberations and forceful subcommittee management policy Nuke Info Tokyo No. 162

The nuclear Power Subcommittee1) convened on June 19. As this writer was nominated as a member, I accepted the post with the intention of continuing to assert my anti-nuclear position at the committee meetings. The government organized this subcommittee to discuss and devise necessary measures in accordance with the Basic Energy Plan endorsed by the Cabinet in April 2014. Our Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center (CNIC), however, does not approve the contents of the basic plan. Hence, I became a subcommittee member after I notified the secretariat in the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) that my acceptance of the post did not mean that I had changed my mind and would support the basic energy plan. I reiterated this point at the first subcommittee meeting.

The subcommittee is comprised of 27 members, many of whom are uncompromising proponents of nuclear power generation, such as Koji Okamoto, Akira Yamaguchi and Hajimu Yamana. Some of the other members are experts on investment and business management, probably because the current government has already announced a policy to reduce Japan’s dependence on nuclear power.

Selection of the members was conducted behind closed doors at METI, just as on previous occasions. Due to the lack of transparency in the selection process, it remains uncertain for what purpose and with what kind of intention the selection was carried out. This writer thus called on the ministry to improve and enhance the transparency of the selection process by following the example of Britain’s Commissioner for Public Appointments system.

In this system, committee members are chosen through an open recruitment system and a panel independent of the government’s ministries and agencies selects members from the applicants. The minister appoints the successful candidates to the post. However, citizens are allowed to raise objections to appointments.

My demand for the improvement of the current selection system was ignored and this issue was not taken up in the committee discussions. Nevertheless, I think that the British system should be introduced into Japan sooner or later.

The secretariat has presented to the subcommittee eight issues to be deliberated on:

1) Efforts for reconstruction and restoration of Fukushima,
2) Problems to be resolved for reduction in the dependence on nuclear power (e.g. decommissioning of nuclear reactors),
3) Consistent efforts to enhance safety,
4) Development and maintenance of nuclear technologies and personnel,
5) Nuclear power business in a competitive environment,
6) Efforts to solve the problems of spent nuclear fuel and promotion of the nuclear fuel cycle policy,
7) Establishment of a relationship of trust with the public and local communities, and
8) Contribution to the peaceful use of nuclear power and nuclear non-proliferation worldwide.

Up to the end of July, the subcommittee held two meetings. In the second meeting, it decided on the order in which the eight issues would be discussed by giving priority to those where there is a need to reach a conclusion as promptly as possible. Issues 2), 5) and 6) were classified as those that should be discussed as soon as possible. Issues 4), 6), 7) and 8) were categorized as those that need to be implemented continuously, and 2) (development of alternative power sources) and 6), as those to be tackled on a mid-term and long-term basis. Issues 1) and 3) were not mentioned in the materials of the second meeting.

Two guest speakers gave presentations at the second meeting. One of them was former Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy, William Martin. He admitted that renewable energy is important for Japan, but added that nuclear power generation is indispensable when considering national energy security. The other speaker was Chairman of the National Diet of Japan Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission Kiyoshi Kurokawa. He repeatedly emphasized the need to increase transparency of the government’s entire administrative processes involving nuclear power generation by saying that this was the lesson we must learn from the 2011 nuclear accident.

In the first meeting, mass media were allowed to film only the outset of the meeting. It was at this time that this writer came to know that the video of the meeting would not be made public. The reason for this decision was allegedly that some of the members would hesitate to express their views fully at the meeting if the video were to be released. This reason seemed to be totally unconvincing to me.

According to my experience, it is hardly likely that some members accepted the job on condition that the video of the deliberations would not be published. Therefore, it is certain that all the members would have accepted the policy to publish the video, if the secretariat had announced it in advance. This probably means that the closed-door policy was decided at the discretion of the secretariat.

However, the release of the video of the deliberations is generally considered to be a matter of course and should be carried out for the following three reasons. Firstly, it is necessary for securing transparency of the deliberation process. Although it is regrettable that Mr. Kurokawa did not make direct comments to support the video release, he insisted that the lack of transparency in nuclear power administrative processes was the fundamental cause of the Fukushima nuclear accident, and this is true.

Secondly, the atmosphere of the meeting cannot be conveyed to the public through written documents alone. Thirdly, the subcommittee deliberations should be reported to the public as quickly as possible and the release of the video is a very effective way to do this. The minutes of the meeting are to be released within one month, and the meeting is expected to be held twice a month.

The secretariat claims that they are writing the summary of the minutes carefully, and that the document will be released within a week. But the names of the speakers are not written in the summary because the secretariat is the credited writer. (The secretariat must obtain the approval of speakers in order to disclose their names.) This means that no reader will be able to trace the deliberation process unless he or she attended the meeting as an observer. Under the current circumstances, this writer is determined to continue to demand release of the video of the deliberations, but it would be more effective if many other people would also voice similar demands.

Another problem emerged. When one of the members, Hitoshi Yoshioka, deputy chairperson of the Citizens’ Commission on Nuclear Energy (CCNE), sought permission to distribute a report by CCNE, titled “Opinion: The Restart of the Sendai Nuclear Power Station should be Suspended Indefinitely,” the secretariat refused to comply. Eventually it was decided that the secretariat would notify the participating members of the report and have them take a copy home if they so wished. Nevertheless, the secretariat’s notification was extremely sloppy and did not even mention the title of the report. Mr. Yoshioka tried to add his own comments, but Chairperson Itaru Yasui rejected his demand. This was an extremely inappropriate way of conducting a session, and we must say that Mr. Yasui is ill-qualified for the post.

These questionable actions are likely to nullify the subcommittee’s target to build up a relationship of trust between the government, on one side, and the public and local communities on the other. Former Fukushima prefectural governor Eisaku Sato criticized the government’s forceful way of implementing nuclear energy policy, saying it is like a tank crushing local governments. It seems that the situation has deteriorated and the government has begun to use the tank to crush the public as well.

(Hideyuki Ban, Co-Director of CNIC)

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