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sexta-feira, 30 de setembro de 2011

Japan Nuclear Agency Adds to Mistrust

TOKYO—An independent panel advising Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry confirmed Friday that the ministry's nuclear watchdog was involved in attempts by utilities to manipulate public opinion in favor of nuclear power, a conclusion likely to reinforce public mistrust in the nuclear industry and to raise further hurdles for the restart of idled reactors.
The ministry also announced later in the day that it has suspended former Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency spokesman Hidehiko Nishiyama for one month after finding he engaged in inappropriate sexual conduct with a female staffer during working hours at the height of the nuclear crisis.
The panel's conclusion is likely to renew calls for reforming governance at power companies, which have a reputation for being secretive about their nuclear-power operations and for covering up mishaps at their plants.
"The revelations may further undermine public confidence in nuclear policy after the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant," said Takashi Oizumi, chairman of the panel and former public prosecutor, at a news conference.
The panel looked into 41 government-sponsored events over five years. No attempts of manipulation were found at symposiums involving Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the Fukushima plant.
According to the panel report, the ministry's officials—mostly from its NISA offices—asked the operators of five nuclear-power plants to encourage employees, between 2005 and 2009, to attend government-sponsored briefings and symposiums and to express opinions in favor of nuclear energy.
Such gatherings are meant to provide an opportunity for the government to explain nuclear-power policy and for the public to express opinions. Local mayors and governors often used such events to gauge public opinion and make decisions on whether they would proceed in line with the government's nuclear policy.
The government already announced over the summer plans to overhaul the regulation of nuclear power and to step up safety checks at nuclear plants. But there has been little sign that public confidence in nuclear-power is returning. Only 11 of the nation's 54 commercial reactors remain in operation.
Opposition Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Taro Kono argued that the utilities can't be trusted without a complete overhaul of their corporate governance, including the appointment of external board members.
The symposiums in question were on the use of uranium-plutonium mixed-oxide fuel at Kyushu Electric Power Co.'s Genkai plant in October 2005, Shikoku Electric Power Co.'s Ikata plant in June 2006, Chubu Electric Power Co.'s Hamaoka plant in August 2007, and Hokkaido Electric Power Co.'s Tomari plant in 2008.
NISA also was found to have been involved in briefing sessions about the quake resistance of Tohoku Electric Power Co.'s Onagawa plant in October 2006.
Mr. Nishiyama was replaced as NISA spokesman in June following media reports that he was having an extramarital affair while serving as the public face of the ministry during the Fukushima Daiichi disaster between March and June. He continued to work at the ministry.


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