This photo shows a draft of an order that was distributed at a preparatory NRA meeting, in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward on March 23, 2020. (Mainichi/Kota Yoshida)


The Mainichi Shimbun has obtained a voice recording of a preparatory meeting that Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) held behind closed doors, in which NRA Chairman Toyoshi Fuketa is heard comparing two proposals that he earlier repeatedly stated were never part of a decision-making process.


Fuketa has, during several press conferences, expressed the view that failing to make records of the preparatory meeting did not constitute a violation of the Public Records and Archives Management Act, which requires minutes of any meetings that lead to officials deciding on policy options, but the content of the audio recording indicates decisions were made.


The proposals related to Kansai Electric Power Co.’s safety measures for its Takahama, Oi, and Mihama nuclear power plants following a claim from researchers that officials had underestimated the amount of volcanic ash that would be generated if Mount Daisen in the western Japan prefecture of Tottori erupted.


At a meeting of the House of Councillors Cabinet Committee on March 10, Fuketa stated that at the preparatory gathering “there was no decision-making, such as choosing one proposal from among two.” But in the audio recording Fuketa is heard leading the discussion in the direction of rejecting one proposal.


The roughly 50-minute preparatory meeting was held on Dec. 6, 2018 in the office of the head of the NRA, ahead of an open meeting held on Dec. 12. A total of 11 people attended the preparatory meeting, including Fuketa, fellow NRA member Akira Ishiwatari, and then secretary-general Masaya Yasui.


The participants focused on two options stemming from the issue raised by researchers: (1) Urge Kansai Electric through written instructions to alter its request for permission to operate the nuclear power plants; and (2) Defer an immediate decision from the NRA, and instead order the utility to re-evaluate the estimated volcanic ash volume.


In the audio recording obtained by the Mainichi Shimbun, Fuketa is heard saying. “(1) feels neater, but I know it would be difficult in legal terms.” A worker from the Secretariat of the Nuclear Regulation Authority is then asked to present a legal view. The worker responds that if Kansai Electric filed a fresh request for permission, it would externally reveal there was a problem with disaster prevention, and that option (2) was more rational. Fuketa then sides with option (2), responding, “Requesting an altered application for permission would be the same as saying there was a problem with the permission and it needs to be fixed. Considering that, I think maybe (2) is better.”


When the discussion then touched on the possibility of nuclear power plant operations being suspended if it were determined that the plants needed more reinforcement against the damage that could be caused by volcanic ash, Fuketa again sided with the second option. The agenda of the meeting then moved to making an order to Kansai Electric based on option (2).


In the recording, Fuketa apparently makes a reference to a drafted order to Kansai Electric that stated that the eruption history of Mount Daisen would be reviewed, when he says, “The terms ‘be reviewed’ and so on are suggestive of being in a state of non-compliance (with safety standards for nuclear power plants).” In the actual order given to Kansai Electric, this phrase was deleted.


Fuketa previously denied that he had issued any instructions to officials of the NRA’s secretariat. When part of the audio recording was played at a news conference on March 25, he said, “It wasn’t an order, but I did convey my own decision.”


(Japanese original by Kosuke Hino, City News Department, and Ryuji Tanaka, Special Reports Department)

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