Rotten sushi cheats
 Gov't unit, utilities sought to manipulate
    symposiums on nuclear power

The symposium on a "pluthermal" project at the Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant is held in Omaezaki, Shizuoka Prefecture, on Aug. 26, 2007. (Mainichi)TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Seven Japanese power utilities had urged their employees and affiliated firms' workers to participate in symposiums related to the use of nuclear power generation, while three of them had local residents and employees pitch prepared questions and opinions at the events, the industry ministry said Friday.

Of the seven companies asked by the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry to submit reports on possible maneuvering of such events, Chubu Electric Power Co. and Shikoku Electric Power Co. said they were asked by the government's nuclear safety agency to have local residents pose questions in favor of Japan's nuclear projects.

The revelations suggesting the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency under the ministry and some of the utilities had attempted to manufacture public opinion over nuclear power will likely deal a heavy blow to the power authorities, possibly further delaying the resumption of suspended nuclear plants nationwide.

The findings came after Kyushu Electric Power Co. recently became embroiled in a scandal in which it admitted to an attempt to fake public backing for the resumption of a halted nuclear power plant at a similar event.

In the wake of that scandal, the industry ministry has asked the seven electricity firms to see if they have had similar problems at related events held over the last five years and submit the results of their internal probes by Friday.

Industry minister Banri Kaieda admitted at a press conference the possibility of the nuclear safety agency's involvement, saying, "It's an extremely serious situation. If it's a fact the state has maneuvered to bring out certain opinions, I, as one who oversees the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, feel very sorry."

Kaieda said he will set up a third-party panel including legal experts to investigate the government body's involvement in such scandal. The investigation will take in August, he said.

Chubu Electric Power Co. official Shuichi Terada announces the results of an investigation into staged symposium questions, in Nagoya on July 29. (Mainichi)Nuclear agency chief Nobuaki Terasaka echoed the minister's remarks in one of the few press conferences he's held since the country's nuclear crisis erupted in March, and promised "full cooperation" with the upcoming investigation.

But he did not clearly say how he intends to take responsibility in the event the panel findings point to the agency's involvement.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan told a press conference that a "thorough investigation and strict response are needed" to deal with the situation "if it's true." He added that the significance of the agency's existence "may be called into question."

Chubu Electric said Friday it was asked by the agency to have local residents pitch questions favoring the firm's "pluthermal" nuclear project at a related symposium sponsored by the government in 2007. In its 2008 symposium, around half of the participants were filled by employees, and the utility had asked them to make comments in support of the utility's operations.

Chubu Electric's case was the first revelation of the government's involvement in a suspected attempt to manufacture public opinion on nuclear power. Chubu Electric drafted a list of questions, but eventually rejected the request, considering it was inappropriate.

The electricity firm serving the southern part of central Japan said it asked its employees to attend the August 2007 symposium for local people to get a better grasp of the plutonium-thermal project planned for its Hamaoka plant in Shizuoka Prefecture. The utility, however, denied an allegation that it asked participants to voice certain opinions there.

Pluthermal power generation uses plutonium-uranium mixed oxide fuel in an existing reactor and is an important pillar of Japan's nuclear program.

The Nagoya-based utility postponed the project after the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant broke out following the massive earthquake and tsunami in March and then shut down the Hamaoka plant at the government's request.

Shikoku Electric, serving the Shikoku main island in southwestern Japan, also said Friday it was asked by the nuclear safety agency to solicit participants for a symposium in 2006 on a pluthermal project of the Ikata nuclear power plant in Ehime Prefecture.

It also asked its employees to voice opinions and pose questions which had been prepared by the company beforehand.

The headquarters of Chubu Electric Power Co. in Nagoya on May 7. (Mainichi)Kyushu Electric also said it had made similar requests to participants it had solicited to make supportive comments at a symposium concerning the pluthermal project for its Genkai nuclear power plant in Saga Prefecture in 2005.

Chugoku Electric Power Co., whose service area is the Chugoku region in western Japan, also admitted that about half the attendants of a state-sponsored meeting in 2008 to explain to local residents about the pluthermal project for the Shimane nuclear power plant in Shimane Prefecture were related to the company and that the utility asked residents cooperative to the utility to voice opinions.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. serving eastern Japan said the utility asked its employees and workers of affiliated companies to attend government-sponsored events on the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in Niigata Prefecture from fiscal 2007 to 2010, but denied it tried to manipulate participants' opinions.

Tohoku Electric Power Co. also made similar requests to its employees and affiliate firms' workers to attend a state-organized symposium held last year in Miyagi Prefecture concerning the pluthermal project. It also denied that it instructed the participants to make comments in favor of the project.

Hiroaki Koide, assistant professor at the Kyoto University Research Reactor Institute, said Japan's nuclear power policy has long been promoted together by the government, local municipalities and electricity firms.

"The problem that surfaced this time is just the tip of the iceberg," he said.

Kyushu Electric has admitted that a total of 141 people, including 45 of its employees, sent comments to a government-sponsored television program, aired June 26, via e-mail and fax amid a secret campaign to boost support for the company's plan to reactivate its nuclear reactors.

(Mainichi Japan) July 30, 2011
by fighter_eiji | 2011-07-30 22:43 | English
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