U.S. and Japan Equally Shameless in Shuttling Officials From Regulatory Agencies to Nuclear Energy Industry

In both Japan and the United States, nuclear power is just another industry in which officials shuttle back and forth between it and jobs with regulatory and other government agencies. In his Rolling Stone article, America’s Nuclear Nightmare, Jeff Goodell explains.

Over the past decade, the nuclear industry has contributed more than $4.6 million to members of Congress — and last year alone, it spent $1.7 million on federal lobbying. Given the generous flow of nuclear money, the [Nuclear Regulatory Commission] is essentially rigged to operate in the industry’s favor.

Goodell turned to IPS’s own Robert Alvarez for some insight on such officials.

“They are vetted by the industry,” [he said.] “It’s the typical revolving-door story — many are coming in or out of jobs with the nuclear power industry. You don’t get a lot of skeptics appointed to this job.”

For example:

Jeffrey Merrifield, a former NRC commissioner who left the agency in 2007, is a case in point. When Merrifield was ready to exit public service, he simply called up the CEO of Exelon, the country’s largest nuclear operator, and asked him for a job recommendation. Given his friends in high places, he wound up taking a top job at the Shaw Group, a construction firm that builds nuclear reactors.

Merrifield returned the favor.

During the Fukushima disaster, Merrifield appeared on Fox News, as well as in videos for the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry’s lobbying group. In one video . . . Merrifield reassures viewers that the meltdown in Japan is no big deal. “We should continue to move forward with building those new plants,” he says, “because it’s the right thing for our nation and it’s the right thing for our future.”

Meanwhile in Japan, report Norimitsu Onishi and Ken Belson for the New York Times

Though it is charged with oversight, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency is part of the Ministry of Trade, Economy and Industry, the bureaucracy charged with promoting the use of nuclear power. Over a long career, officials are often transferred repeatedly between oversight and promotion divisions, blurring the lines between supporting and policing the industry.

Influential bureaucrats tend to side with the nuclear industry — and the promotion of it — because of a practice known as amakudari, or descent from heaven [which] allows senior bureaucrats, usually in their 50s, to land cushy jobs at the companies they once oversaw. . . . generations of high-ranking officials from the ministry have landed senior positions at the country’s 10 utilities since Japan’s first nuclear plants were designed in the 1960s.

A prominent example is Tokio Kano, a former vice president at Tepco who was elected to Parliament.

. . . on the strength of Mr. Kano’s leadership, Japan adopted a national basic energy plan calling for the growth of nuclear energy as a way to achieve greater energy independence and to reduce Japan’s emission of greenhouses gases. The plan and subsequent versions mentioned only in broad terms the importance of safety at the nation’s nuclear plants despite the 2002 disclosure of cover-ups at Fukushima Daiichi and a 1999 accident at a plant northeast of Tokyo in which high levels of radiation were spewed into the air. . . . In a move that has raised eyebrows even in a world of cross-fertilizing interests, he has returned to Tepco as an adviser. . . . In an interview at a Tepco office here, accompanied by a company spokesman, Mr. Kano said he had served in Parliament out of “conviction.”

Now for the money quote:

“It’s disgusting to be thought of as a politician who was a company errand boy just because I was supported by a power company and the business community,” Mr. Kano said.

It’s even more disgusting when workers trying to keep spent fuel rods from overheating become ill with radiation sickness.