Nuclear regulator asked utility to push nuclear power in public forum

In 2006, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency asked a utility to manipulate public opinion in favor of nuclear power at a public forum, a fresh example of collusion between the nuclear watchdog and electric power companies.

The Shikoku Electric Power Co. Admitted NISA asked it to mobilize residents to attend the June 2006 public hearing in Ikata, Ehime Prefecture, home to Shikoku Electric’s Ikata nuclear power plant, the industry ministry said July 29.

NISA wanted the utility to persuade people to speak up in favor of the utility’s planned use of MOX fuel (plutonium oxide mixed with uranium) at the plant.

The revelation came after NISA was found to have asked Chubu Electric Power Co. To plant pro-nuclear supporters in a public forum in Omaezaki, Shizuoka Prefecture, which hosts the utility’s Hamaoka nuclear plant, in August 2007.

Akihisa Mizuno, president of Chubu Electric, apologized at a news conference.

“We deeply regret (what happened),” Mizuno said. “We will ensure things are done in the future to leave no doubts about impartiality.”

Industry minister Banri Kaieda promised a thorough probe into the issue.

“It is an extremely serious situation,” Kaieda said July 29. “We want to get the bottom (of what really happened).”

NISA’s role in the public hearings surfaced after the ministry, which oversees NISA, began probing seven regional utilities on whether 35 public forums organized by the government in their jurisdictions in the past five years had been seeded with pro-nuclear voices.

The investigation was prompted by Kyushu Electric Power Co. Acknowledgement earlier this month that an official of the company had asked employees of an affiliate to send e-mail messages to steer a public forum in favor of nuclear power.

Separate from its latest report to METI, Kyushu Electric has admitted the Resources and Energy Agency asked it to fill a public forum. “Fewer vacant seats are better,” the agency was quoted by the utility as saying. The agency comes under the oversight of METI.

Recruiting attendees and manipulating public opinion in favor of electric utility plans has apparently been standard practice in the industry for many years.

Meanwhile, Nobuaki Terasaka, director of NISA, told a news conference on the night of July 29 that the agency is in serious trouble if the utilities’ reports are true.

“We face a grave situation because the agency is supposed to be neutral and impartial,” Terasaka said in his first public appearance in four months.

But he said nothing about his own responsibility. He said the task of verifying the reports on NISA’s instructions to the utilities will be left to the ministry’s independent panel.

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