Deliberations are in progress in an effort to reform Japan's nuclear
regulatory body after the experience of the catastrophe at the Fukushima I
nuclear power station. At present, the country's nuclear safety is regulated
by the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) under the umbrella of the
Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), which also promotes the use
of nuclear power. A plan to separate the regulatory body from METI and
restructure it as the Nuclear Safety Agency (tentative name) was approved by
the Cabinet on August 15.
The target date for the launch of the new agency is April 2012. Since
regulating the safety of nuclear power requires highly specialized
knowledge, securing qualified human resources is expected to be a major
challenge for the new agency.
The basic plan adopted by the Cabinet declares to recruit highly qualified
human resources from both the public and private sectors in order to
properly fulfill the responsibilities of the new agency. Under the existing
system, personnel transferred from METI to NISA are allowed to return to the
ministry after gaining experience working at NISA. The assurance of being
able to one day take part in formulating national economic and industrial
policies had been the source of motivation for employees assigned to the
regulatory division of the ministry.
The proposed plan calls for a system that prohibits executive officers and
higher rank employees from returning to the ministries from which they have
originally been transferred. The plan envisages the new agency mainly
consisting of officials transferred from NISA in its initial stages, while
recruiting new personnel thereafter including those from the private sector.
It is also planned that the Nuclear Safety Agency will eventually make
recruitment decisions on its own. In order to attract highly qualified
personnel to its workforce, it is important that the nuclear regulatory body
be reformed to become an organization where its employees can take pride in
working. An organization being looked at as a comparison is the U.S. Nuclear
Regulatory Commission (NRC), which is viewed as having the most favorable
work conditions among all agencies of the U.S. federal government.
NRC currently holds as many as 4,000 employees. The reason why the
commission is able to secure such a large workforce is that it is
considered to be a promising reemployment opportunity for engineers of
nuclear-powered warships working in the country's ordnance sector. While
Japan does not have nuclear-powered warships, human resources from electric
utilities and manufacturers with ample expertise in nuclear technologies can
be employed for the new agency.
Meanwhile, the NRC gave its staff 18 months to consider the task force's
broadest recommendation- a revamping of the way the agency ensures "adequate
protection" of public health and safety. The nuclear industry, which has
worried that a sweeping revamp could impose significant costs, had urged the
NRC to consider that recommendation separately, arguing that it was too
drastic a change to be addressed in only a few months.
The Japan task force is made up of veteran NRC staff and its report includes
recommendations for the commission to adopt. However, some of the
commissioners have said they want input from other staff members on those
recommendations. The memorandum issued Friday calls for a "senior-level
steering committee" reporting to Bill Borchardt, the agency's executive
director for operations. Borchardt is the NRC's top career official and was
not part of the task force.
The plan outlined Friday also calls for meetings where the industry, nuclear
watchdogs, and other groups can offer their input.
NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko said the plan will also require "a continued
commitment by the commission to see that these recommendations are promptly