It has been recently revealed that in 2006 the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency asked Chubu Electric company to recruit citizens to ask “pre-arranged questions” (“やらせ質問”) and speak favorably about nuclear power at public hearings on the proposed use of MOX fuel. These hearings took place in the summer of 2006 in Shizuoka and Ehime prefectures. Certain utilities asked its employees and even local residents to say positive things about the plutonium thermal project to win over support for the controversial proposal.
The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) has made the requisite denouncements, promising an independent investigation into the matter, to be published by the end of August.
The Sankei Shinbun reports that according to Chubu Electric, NISA requested they put these “questioners” in inconspicuous locations in the assembly hall. They were also asked to “try not to call on those in opposition to the plutonium thermal proposition,” but to have citizens ask questions that have been pre-made by Chubu Electric. They ended up drafting the questions, but after consulting their legal compliance department, they reaching the conclusion that such an act would be extremely dubious and never actually distributed them. In fact, Sankei reports that some Chubu employees encouraged citizens to “speak honestly, even if your opinions are critical”.
Other utilities went along, however. According to the Asahi Shinbun, Shikoku Electric “sought out 29 people, including local residents, to speak up in the government-sponsored session, providing them with ‘example opinions’ beforehand….One person said at the session: ‘I was somewhat relieved to learn that using fuel made from plutonium blended with uranium would not be very different from using uranium in terms of the gases generated’. The words were similar to the sample opinion.”
There is something darkly funny about the provided “example opinions”. While this is another serious example of collusion between industry and regulators, the incident also just seems pathetic–conjuring ridiculous images of confused citizens reading awkwardly from index cards, stumbling over the terminology, NISA officials shuffling over to help with the pronunciation of the more challenging nuclear words: “No no, thats actually thor-ium…yes, yes, now please start from the beginning.” This is really the best strategy they had to generate favorable public opinion?
Maybe I’m simply unfazed by these nuclear industry “scandals” the press keeps uncovering, but rather than villianous, the attempts at manipulation just seem too incompetent to take seriously. They could certainly learn a thing or two from the oil barons of the US or the bankers on wall-street. Or maybe it just shows how little effort is required to get away with unethical behavior in an environment as saturated with corruption as Japan’s nuclear industry is.
Jake’s note: NISA is part of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). The same agency which is now investigating NISA for “improper behavior”. Allegedly, the job of NISA is to regulate the nuclear industry, not be the atomic energy cheerleaders. There were seven NISA inspectors on the site at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear reactor on the day of the earthquake, March 11. All of them fled immediately, leaving very few people competent to measure the radioactive levels at the site or assess the danger leverl. NISA in response to my questions insisted that this was not dereliction of duty.
NISA has never filed criminal charges against TEPCO although the firm has repeatedly forged documents and altered data in over 161 incidents, which constitutes forgery and possibly fraud under Japanese criminal law. If it wasn’t clear that NISA is more about supporting the nuclear industry than regulating it, it is now. They might as well trade in their geiger counters for some pom-poms. It would make the agency more transparent.