TOKYO — Responding to criticism that lax oversight played a role in the Fukushima nuclear accident, Japan’s government could give its nuclear regulatory agency more independence as early as next year, the country’s minister of trade and industry said.

The minister, Banri Kaieda, said the government wanted to separate the agency from his ministry, which is in charge of promoting Japan’s nuclear industry. Cozy ties between government and industry are now widely blamed for allowing the Fukushima Daiichi plant to operate despite inadequate backup power systems or protections against large tsunamis before the devastating earthquake on March 11.

Mr. Kaieda made the vague pledge of reform on Monday in Vienna, during a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the global nuclear watchdog. At the meeting, the head of the I.A.E.A., Yukiya Amano, said that nuclear regulators must be “genuinely independent,” echoing a criticism that his agency has repeatedly made of Japan’s nuclear oversight in the past.

There has also been widespread criticism in Japan that the regulators’ lack of independence contributed to the nation’s clumsy handling of the nuclear accident in the early days of the crisis, when the government largely left the response up to the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company. Officials in the prime minister’s office have since complained that they were getting inadequate information from not only Tokyo Electric, but also from the ministry and regulators, who seemed to be shielding the company.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/22/world/asia/22japan.html

Mr. Kaieda said spinning off the regulatory body, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, from the ministry was one of several proposals being considered to strengthen oversight.

The I.A.E.A. has criticized the Japanese agency’s lack of independence several times, most recently in a report completed last week by an investigative team that visited the stricken Fukushima plant in May. In 2007, following an earthquake in another part of Japan that also damaged a different nuclear plant, the international agency called for creating a firewall between regulators and the ministry, which guided the establishment of Japan’s nuclear industry.

Advertisements