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Japan to have new nuclear watchdog

  |   Sept. 12, 2012 at 12:56 PM
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TOKYO, Sept. 12 (UPI) -- Japan plans to install a new nuclear regulatory commission.

The new commission, to be launched Sept. 19, will replace the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, which was under the authority of the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry, a promoter of nuclear power, Xinhua reports.

The new watchdog is intended to operate with a high degree of independence.

NISA had been widely criticized in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in March 2011.

The government had intended to launch the new regulatory authority in early September but the Diet failed to agree on the chairman and four other members of the commission.

As a result, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda will appoint the officials under an exemption clause of legislation. Shunichi Tanaka, a radiation physics expert and former vice chairman of the government's Japan Atomic Energy Commission, is to become chairman of the new group.

The Asahi Shimbun notes that during his confirmation hearing before the Diet, Tanaka emphasized the strict application of the 40-year life rule for nuclear reactors.

"The new body has to start tackling very important challenges and some work needs to be started as soon as possible. I will make utmost efforts and would like people to judge (me) based on the results," The Japan Times quotes Tanaka as saying.

Tanaka said he would tackle pressing challenges, including decommissioning the reactors at the stricken Fukushima No. 1 power plant, compensating Fukushima evacuees and checking and ensuring the safety of the country's idled reactors.

Prior to the Fukushima crisis, nuclear power provided 30 percent of Japan's electricity.

"Getting this watchdog body firmly on its feet should be a priority, if the nation is to end its reliance on nuclear power generation and adopt a stringent nuclear safety standard based on the hard lessons of the Fukushima disaster last year," stated an editorial Wednesday in The Asahi Shimbun.

"The commission should not forget that its every move is being closely watched by the public," it said.

In a related development, Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of Fukushima, said Wednesday that it has established a third-party committee to oversee the reform of its nuclear power division, with the aim of restarting its key nuclear reactors, which were idled following the Fukushima disaster, The Asahi Shimbun reports.

The committee includes a former chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Dale Klein.

While operations at all of Tepco's 13 nuclear reactors have been suspended, the company plans to plans to reactivate the seven reactors at its Kazhiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in Niigata Prefecture, a key power generation facility, in phases beginning in spring 2013.

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