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Japan's nuclear authority using AI to help make closed meetings more transparent

An automated transcription of the Nuclear Regulation Authority's private meeting is seen in this photo. (Mainichi/Riki Iwama)
Employees of the Secretariat of the Nuclear Regulation Authority are consulted by business operators in a private meeting in this photo taken in Tokyo's Minato Ward in April. (Photo courtesy of the Nuclear Regulation Authority)

TOKYO -- The Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) has begun to use AI for automated transcriptions of its private meetings that are held with electric utility representatives in the course of safety screenings and other processes.

While members of the public only had minimal access to what were discussed at such meetings in the past, from April 8 they were able to see the entire text on the NRA's website. This policy change, implemented in response to a call for increased transparency, is attracting attention as an attempt to improve the way administrations disclose information.

The minutes of the first meeting released on April 8 were for an interview on the Takahama nuclear power plant conducted on April 2 that lasted about four minutes. Annotations of the text explained that the record was a direct result of an automated transcription and that the statements had not been confirmed by their speakers.

However, there were some setbacks with the use of the new technology as the AI mistranscribed "from 75A to 100A" as "from 75 yen to 100 yen" and "there were shortcomings (Itaranai ten atta)" as "we have received it (Itadaite atta)." Furthermore, nonsensical phrases had crept into the text due to noises, short responses and stammering. However, the general outline was understandable.

The NRA has been disclosing image recordings and minutes of its official meetings and press conferences in principle, but had only released an overview of private interviews due to funding and labor limits. But it decided last December to disclose the entire record of closed meetings in general, as members pointed out that such meetings -- conducted about 4,800 times a year, adding up to at least 10,000 hours and at least 10 times the amount of official conferences -- served as actual prior consultations.

The AI can now transcribe difficult technical terms and abbreviations as it learned the minutes of meetings over the past three years. The technology achieved about 90 percent accuracy in a preliminary test. Although mistranscriptions will be included, some parts of the text will be deleted upon review, including information that needs to be kept secret for safety reasons.

For this reason, the text will be released about one week after the private meetings, just like other official minutes of meetings.

Because the audio recordings of private interviews are to be disclosed upon request, a NRA representative explained, "The quality (of the minutes of meetings) can be preserved even by using AI, by matching data (of the automated transcription and the audio recordings)."

According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications Local Administration Management Assistance Office, the utilization of AI technology has grown popular among local governments. As of Jan. 8 this year, AI is being used in creating the minutes of meetings and in assisting other work in 14 prefectural and 23 municipal governments.

(Japanese original by Riki Iwama, Science & Environment News Department)

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