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Japan's nuclear watchdog chief to step down after term ends in September

Nuclear Regulation Authority acting chairman Toyoshi Fuketa (Mainichi)

Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) Chairman Shunichi Tanaka is set to step down as his term expires in September this year, while the government proposed to the Diet on April 18 to promote the acting head to succeed Tanaka with the aim to maintain the status quo of the nuclear watchdog operation.

    The NRA was launched in 2012 after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in March 2011 to review and inspect Japan's nuclear power stations. By promoting commissioner and acting chairman Toyoshi Fuketa, 59, who has been an NRA member since its launch, the government is looking to maintain current NRA policies on restarting idled rectors across the country.

    If accepted by the Diet, Fuketa will assume the chairman position in September for a five-year term, and be replaced by Osaka University vice president Shinsuke Yamanaka, 61, as a commissioner.

    Over the course of five years, power companies have applied for safety inspections for a total of 26 reactors at 16 nuclear stations to the NRA, but under Tanaka, only five reactors at three plants were restarted after passing safety inspections.

    While some ruling party lawmakers criticized Tanaka's management for taking too much time on safety inspections, others pushed to keep him in the position, with a former minister saying, "He did a good job in restarting that many nuclear reactors. His comments at Diet sessions are carefully thought out, too." However, 72-year-old Tanaka has been reluctant about staying in his position with reasons including his age.

    Fuketa specializes in safety measures at nuclear reactors and has been responsible for inspections of utilities' measures against serious incidents at their nuclear plants -- one of the prerequisites for a reactor to resume operation. He has criticized Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s plan to surround the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant with ice walls to block water from flowing into the plant, pointing out that they weren't effective in shutting out the water inflow. An enormous amount of contaminated water has been generated at the crippled power plant as ground water has flowed onto the premises of reactor buildings.

    Fuketa has recently released a comment, saying that he is determined to fulfill his responsibilities by completing one task at a time while always keeping in mind lessons from the Fukushima disaster.

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