TOKYO (AP) — The government's candidate to head Japan's new nuclear regulatory body vowed Wednesday to impose stricter safety standards on utility companies that run nuclear power plants and brushed off accusations that he has a pro-industry bias.
Shunichi Tanaka is a former executive of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, which promotes development of nuclear energy. Criticism of collusion between regulators and the nuclear industry following last year's accident at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant has led to the creation of a more independent regulatory body which is to be launched in September.
Tanaka's nomination to head that body has triggered protests from activists and anti-nuclear lawmakers.
In a parliamentary hearing Wednesday, Tanaka said he is committed to nuclear safety and protection of people's lives. His nomination requires approval from parliament.
Tanaka said the safety standards that were used to recently restart two reactors in western Japan — the first to go back online since the crisis — are insufficient and need a full review. Japan's remaining 48 reactors are shuttered for inspections.
He also said he will shut down reactors if active earthquake faults are found underneath them.
"We must set a rigid safety standard for nuclear operators and not allow them to operate reactors if they fail to meet the requirements," he said.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's government wants quick parliamentary approval of Tanaka's nomination to lead the five-member steering committee that oversees the new agency, which will be set up under the Environment Ministry.
Some lawmakers and activists have said Tanaka's past affiliation puts him too close to the industry. They also have criticized the nomination process as murky.
Tanaka, 67, is a native of Fukushima. He has helped efforts to decontaminate radiation which leaked from the Fukushima plant. But he is unpopular among some local residents who say he has downplayed the potential risk of low-dose radiation exposure.
Four other nominees are a current JAEA official, a radiation expert, a seismologist and a former diplomat who participated in a parliamentary probe into the Fukushima crisis.