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TEPCO public trust remains low as Japan shuffles nuclear watchdog

The Japanese government announced it will replace two of its five officials on the Nuclear Regulation Authority, while the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) is still grappling with low public trust.

TOKYO: Japan's government has announced it will replace two of its five members on the Nuclear Regulation Authority which determines if a nuclear plant is ready for a restart.

Speculation is rising that the government is removing the seismic expert responsible for actually beefing up the requirements for nuclear plants.

The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) is eager to spread the message that the Kashiwazaki Kariwa (KK), one of the world’s largest nuclear plants, is ready to be restarted after having been offline since the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear plant disaster.

Nuclear Reform Monitoring Committee deputy chair Lady Barbara Judge, who was the former chair of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, supports an energy mix that includes nuclear power even in Japan where the risk of a massive earthquake is high.

In Japan, many continue to oppose the restart of nuclear power plants. There are lawsuits taking place all over Japan not only against nuclear power plants but also uranium-related facilities. In May, a local court ruled for the first time against the restart of Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture.

"In a lawsuit to stop the Oi nuclear plant, the historic ruling was based on the fact that the risk cannot be controlled by humans” said Tamotsu Sugenami, secretariat of the Takagi Fund for Citizen Science.

“Immediately, those who support nuclear energy began a campaign stating that zero risk is an old way of thinking. We cannot tolerate this."

Aside from the technical safety concerns, public trust in TEPCO also remains low.

“They (TEPCO) put little films on their websites on what's going on,” said Lady Judge.

“They're trying to explain to the public what they're doing inside of walls of power plants which is new. And that's more important than anything in terms of regaining public trust."

TEPCO is aware of its reputation problem but there is also the issue of compensation.

Co-author of the book "It's necessary to dissolve TEPCO for the revival of the Japanese economy" Hideaki Takemura claims the government has bankrolled TEPCO with the banks pumping in some 2 trillion yen to salvage the company.

He said: "There has been no compensation from (TEPCO's) own pocket. It's using the government money to compensate the victims and deal with the accident. There is no company as irresponsible as that."

There are clearly many questions in Japan's ongoing nuclear debate but there is no question that the Abe government is as keen as ever to get the country's nuclear power plants back online.
 

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