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Japanese gov't to establish new nuclear safety regulatory body

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09:00, August 16, 2011

TOKYO, Aug. 15 (Xinhua) -- The government of Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan on Monday agreed to establish a new entity in charge of nuclear safety under the wing of the Environment Ministry in a bid to improve the nation's questionable nuclear safety regulations.

The new agency will integrate the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), the Cabinet Office's Nuclear Safety Commission, and some nuclear-related duties that currently fall to the science ministry, lawmakers said.

In addition, the new entity will be responsible for handling other nuclear-related activities, including emergency response, radiation monitoring and dealing with the threat of nuclear terrorist attacks.

Goshi Hosono, minister in charge of the nuclear crisis, said Monday that the government will work swiftly to firstly create a preliminary panel this month to oversee the agency's creation and by April next year the agency is expected to be fully operational.

In light of declining public trust in Japan's NISA, following several highly publicized scandals implicating the agency in efforts to influence public opinion on nuclear energy via the nuclear power companies it oversees, Kan has vocally denounced the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI)'s role as the nuclear agency's parent body, as the ministry also oversees the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, which actively promotes nuclear energy.

METI's current position poses an inherent conflict of interest and unavoidable bias and lack of objectivity regarding nuclear safety, according to some lawmakers, and thus Kan is looking to set in motion the overhauling of the regulatory framework, prior to his departure from office possibly as early as this month and has been calling for the separation of the current nuclear safety agency from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

Environment Minister Satsuki Eda said his ministry will "make every effort to restore trust in the administration of nuclear safety," as NISA's reputation has been severely tarnished by a perceived sluggish and ineffectual response to the tsunami- triggered nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant on March 11, which led to the worst nuclear disaster the world has seen in 25 years.

Added to this, NISA is facing allegations of soliciting supportive participants to attend government-sponsored symposiums on nuclear energy and ensuring local residents in favor of nuclear power pose prearranged questions at symposiums in key "nuclear- sensitive" locations.

Chubu Electric Power Co., Kyushu Electric Power Co. and Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), have all been implicated in cases of government and industry attempts to manipulate public opinion on nuclear power.

NISA has since had trouble convincing local municipalities to restart reactors idled following the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, even though NISA has certified them safe to be brought back online.

As a result, around 75 percent of Japan's 54 nuclear reactors have been shut down, pending further tests and providing the impetus for Kan's government to swiftly overhaul the current framework and introduce a new, more autonomous regulatory entity.

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