Japan to sack top nuclear energy officials

Thursday 04 August 2011 16.28
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Fukushima - Radioactive material is still leaking from the plant
Fukushima - Radioactive material is still leaking from the plant
Banri Kaieda - Personnel changes on a 'significant scale'
Banri Kaieda - Personnel changes on a 'significant scale'

Japan is sacking three top energy officials over their handling of the Fukushima nuclear disaster and the scandals that have fuelled public mistrust in the country's nuclear policy.

Banri Kaieda, the minister of economy, trade and industry, told a press conference that he was planning sweeping staff changes at his ministry, which both promotes and regulates the nuclear industry.

Mr Kaieda said the reshuffle aimed to 'breathe new life' into the ministry.

He signalled that the changes will include his ministry's top official, a vice minister, and the heads of the ministry's Agency for Natural Resources and of the watchdog body the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.

'Regarding the personnel changes at the ministry of economy, trade and industry, we have been discussing that for about a month,' Mr Kaieda told reporters. 'It will be on a significant scale.'

When asked whether the changes will include the top three energy officials, Mr Kaieda responded: 'It's OK for you to think that.'

He said that the changes would be officially announced later, without specifying when.

Since the 11 March quake and tsunami sparked the nuclear crisis, the ministry has come under intense criticism for its promotion of nuclear power and for seeking to manipulate public opinion by planting questions at open talks.

The comments followed a news report that Prime Minister Naoto Kan and Mr Kaieda were in the final phase of talks about the personnel changes, and that Mr Kaieda himself was considering resigning soon after he dismisses the top officials.

The public has grown distrustful of Japan's nuclear policy amid the world's worst nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant since Chernobyl 25 years ago.

Public anger has intensified in recent weeks after media reported that the safety agency had asked power companies to mobilise their workers and contractors to plant questions in support of nuclear energy at public talks.

Mr Kan is planning to split the watchdog agency away from the industry ministry to boost its independence and regulatory strength.