CNIC Statement: Twelve years after the TEPCO Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident – The ongoing nuclear emergency and the blurring of nuclear regulation and promotion
11 March 2023
Twelve years after the Great East Japan Earthquake and the accident at TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, the Government of Japan has announced a policy of a total return to nuclear power. 12 years ago, the Government issued a declaration of a nuclear emergency, which has still not been lifted. The accident has irreversibly changed so many lives. Many people were forced to evacuate and lost their livelihoods. Although the number of evacuees has gradually decreased over the years, according to the Reconstruction Agency, more than 27,000 people, both in and out of Fukushima Prefecture, are still displaced (as of February 2023).
In the lead up to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident, major accidents occurred repeatedly in Japan, and numerous hidden problems and irregularities surrounding nuclear power plants were exposed through whistle-blowing and other means. Each time, the power companies and the nuclear industry as a whole stated that they have ‘reflected intensely’ and reaffirmed their commitment to ‘put safety first’.
One of the biggest lessons from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident was the separation of nuclear regulation and promotion. After the accident, the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) was established in 2012 as an independent regulatory body. Regulatory independence became the basis for enforcing safety in the nuclear industry. This time, the government was supposed to have really pledged to “put safety first”. Twelve years later, however, we are being shown once again how regulation and promotion have become one and the same, along with the government’s policy of returning to nuclear power.
The Nuclear Regulation Agency, the secretariat of the NRA, was originally the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), which was reorganized after the nuclear accident. As a result, there were concerns about policy distortions caused by personnel exchanges and other factors, and a no-return rule was set up to prohibit staff from returning to the promoting authorities where they had been employed. The no-return rule has worked, albeit in a roundabout way. However, it was not enough. Now, the top five officials in the NRA are all from METI. Nearly half of the senior staff are from METI.
The NRA, which was supposed to be established “to restore confidence in nuclear regulatory bodies at home and abroad, to rebuild nuclear safety management and establish a true culture of safety, with the safety of the public as the top priority”, has never, since its establishment, provided any opportunity to exchange views with the public in its own capacity. On the other hand, it has held countless meetings with the nuclear industry. In December, a tip-off to our office revealed that the Nuclear Regulation Agency had repeatedly exchanged views with the authorities promoting nuclear power. What exactly is the NRA for?
The debate now should not be about the promotion of nuclear power. The Government repeatedly talks about lessons learned from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident. If this is the case, the first thing to be discussed is the independence of the nuclear regulations which are under increasing threat.