19 Avril 2017
April 18, 2017
The Japanese government on Tuesday said it has nominated Toyoshi Fuketa, a commissioner of the country's nuclear watchdog, to take the top post at the regulator, in the first change of leadership since it was revamped after the Fukushima disaster.
Fuketa, 59, was named to replace Shunichi Tanaka, 72, as the chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), who is retiring in September, a parliamentary official said by phone. Fuketa's appointment requires confirmation by lawmakers.
His nomination comes six years after the meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, operated by Tokyo Electric Power Holdings, which led to a revision of atomic regulations, after an official inquiry into the disaster highlighted collusion between regulators and industry.
Fuketa was appointed as a commissioner of the NRA in 2012 when the NRA was set up to enforce new nuclear safety rules. He is known for taking tough positions during safety reviews of reactors and has been instrumental in directing the clean-up of the wrecked Fukushima plant.
"Fuketa has a long background in research on reactor safety and replaces a figure (Tanaka) who was not seen as impartial, at least in some circles," said Andrew DeWit, a professor at Rikkyo University in Tokyo focusing on energy issues.
"His appointment and international connections may help to overcome the industry's reluctance to adopt some internationally recognized safety practices," he said.
These include surprise inspections of nuclear plants and storage of spent uranium fuel in dry casks, rather than high up in reactor buildings as is mostly the case in Japan now.
An International Atomic Energy Agency review of Japan's regulatory framework last year made 26 suggestions and recommendations to address shortcomings, while citing only two examples of good practice.
Many of Japan's reactors are still going through a licensing renewal process by the new regulator, with all but three out of 42 operable reactors still in shutdown.
Fuketa has sometimes poured cold water on the schedule for the early restart of reactors, saying the projections of operators were too optimistic.
The government also nominated Shinsuke Yamanaka, 61, executive vice president of Osaka University in western Japan, to replace Fuketa, the parliamentary official added.
Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) Chairman Shunichi Tanaka is set to step down as his term expires in September this year, while the government proposed to the Diet on April 18 to promote the acting head to succeed Tanaka with the aim to maintain the status quo of the nuclear watchdog operation.
The NRA was launched in 2012 after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in March 2011 to review and inspect Japan's nuclear power stations. By promoting commissioner and acting chairman Toyoshi Fuketa, 59, who has been an NRA member since its launch, the government is looking to maintain current NRA policies on restarting idled rectors across the country.
If accepted by the Diet, Fuketa will assume the chairman position in September for a five-year term, and be replaced by Osaka University vice president Shinsuke Yamanaka, 61, as a commissioner.
Over the course of five years, power companies have applied for safety inspections for a total of 26 reactors at 16 nuclear stations to the NRA, but under Tanaka, only five reactors at three plants were restarted after passing safety inspections.
While some ruling party lawmakers criticized Tanaka's management for taking too much time on safety inspections, others pushed to keep him in the position, with a former minister saying, "He did a good job in restarting that many nuclear reactors. His comments at Diet sessions are carefully thought out, too." However, 72-year-old Tanaka has been reluctant about staying in his position with reasons including his age.
Fuketa specializes in safety measures at nuclear reactors and has been responsible for inspections of utilities' measures against serious incidents at their nuclear plants -- one of the prerequisites for a reactor to resume operation. He has criticized Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s plan to surround the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant with ice walls to block water from flowing into the plant, pointing out that they weren't effective in shutting out the water inflow. An enormous amount of contaminated water has been generated at the crippled power plant as ground water has flowed onto the premises of reactor buildings.
Fuketa has recently released a comment, saying that he is determined to fulfill his responsibilities by completing one task at a time while always keeping in mind lessons from the Fukushima disaster.