Truth be told, the Japanese government – under the pro-nuclear leadership of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe – might be heaving a huge sigh of relief at the sight of exiting Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) commissioner Kunihiko Shimazaki, one of the two commissioners who would be leaving Japan’s nuclear watchdog organization in September when their terms expire. The new commissioners lined up to replace them are seen as ones who would most likely acquiesce to the restarts of Japan’s nuclear reactors more easily than Shimazaki, who was a constant irritant to the power utilities who are asking for green lights to restart their reactors.
The 68-year-old Shimazaki is a professor of seismology and has called for very high standards on whether an earthquake and tsunami could easily wipe out these nuclear plants the same way the Fukushima power facility was hit in March 2011. The twin disasters resulted in multiple reactors melting down, causing what is now considered as one of the world’s worst nuclear crises after Chernobyl in 1986. Business managers from different utility companies complained about Shimazaki, saying that he was hindering the restarts. “Shimazaki made us suffer,” said an executive from Kyushu Electric Power Co. who refused to be named. Kyushu Electric is one of the plants who were in line to have its Sendai nuclear facility brought back online. Sendai was basically good to go, with no inherent problems, or so it would seem. It seems that Shimazaki made Kyushu Electric work at the safety of the plant, considering the force a quake might strike it with. The utility then had to take additional steps for the safety of the plant. This prolonged the restart schedule, meaning that Kyushu Electric could not have the Sendai nuclear plant online this summer, when the power demands peak.
The two replacement commissioners will be Satoru Tanaka, professor of nuclear engineering at the University of Tokyo, and Akira Ishiwatari, professor of geology at Tohoku University, with terms lasting for five years. Observers say that these two men have very little engagement with the nuclear industry, and so their approvals might be easier to get than the outgoing Shimazaki. The loss of Shimazaki would also mean that there will not be a seismological expert of his level and skill in the commission when he steps down. The other commissioner who will step down is 71-year-old Kenzo Oshima, who previously served at the United Nations as an undersecretary-general.