Japan will sack three energy officials over their handing of the Fukushima disaster that has fuelled public mistrust in the country’s nuclear policy. The officials will be held responsible for mishandling of the plant.
Japan’s Trade and Industry Minister Banri Kaieda said that he was planning sweeping staff changes at his ministry to both promote and regulate the nuclear industry. Kaieda said the reshuffle aimed to breathe new life into the ministry. He signaled that the changes would include a vice minister, and the heads of the ministry’s Agency for Natural Resources and the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.
Kaieda told reporters the changes in personnel at the ministry of economy, trade and industry. Kaieda also said that he himself was considering resigning soon after dismissing the top officials.
The move comes as Prime Minister Naoto Kan calls for enhanced nuclear safety accountability and an overhaul of Japan’s energy policy. Japan aims to gradually reduce its dependence on nuclear power as public safety concerns mount.
Since the nuclear crisis, which was sparked by March 11 quake and tsunami, the ministry has come under intense criticism for its promotion of nuclear power and for seeking to manipulate public opinion by planting questions at open talks. Radioactive material is still leaking from the plant five months after the meltdown.
The weight on Kaieda's shoulders became clear when he recently burst into tears during a recent grilling by opposition lawmakers. Prime Minister Kan, a former grassroots activist, has advocated a nuclear-free Japan and has repeatedly criticized the Industry Ministry, which has formed cozy ties with the Energy Industry. Power companies have given jobs to many retired government officials.
The public has grown distrustful of Japan’s nuclear policy amid the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl 25 years ago. Following the Fukushima disaster, Japan has been trying to avoid power shortages that could curtail manufacturing and damage the frail economy; only 16 out of 54 reactors are currently running due to public safety concerns and other problems.
Public anger has intensified in recent weeks after media reported that the safety agency had asked power companies to mobilize their workers and contractors to plant questions in support of nuclear energy at public talks.
The Nuclear Safety Agency, which regulates nuclear energy, has said it would create a third-party panel to investigate the matter. Prime Minister Kan is planning to split the watchdog agency away from the industry ministry to boost its independence and regulatory strength. The government will unveil as early as this week its plans for a new and more independent atomic safety regulator that could lead to tougher safety standards.
Author: Sachin Gaur (Reuters, AFP)
Editor: Sarah Berning