Panel's impartiality questioned over payments from research institute with TEPCO ties
Observers follow proceedings of a meeting of a panel tasked with setting guidelines for compensation to the Fukushima nuclear accident on Aug. 5. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
The integrity of a government panel setting the compensation guidelines for damage from the Fukushima nuclear accident is being questioned amid revelations two members accepted monthly payments from a research institute with close ties to the electric power industry.
The payments amounted to 200,000 yen ($2,600) each time.
The government screening panel on disputes over compensation for nuclear accidents has been compiling guidelines for the compensation to be paid by Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
The whiff of scandal will cast doubt on whether the panel can remain neutral as it seeks to resolve compensation disputes that arise between TEPCO and disaster victims.
The nine-member panel was established on April 11 and is overseen by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.
Toyohiro Nomura, 68, a law professor at Gakushuin University, and Tadashi Otsuka, 52, a Waseda University law professor, accepted monthly payments from the Japan Energy Law Institute (JELI) based in Tokyo's Minato Ward.
Since becoming a director and head of the institute in April, Nomura has received about 200,000 yen a month in salary. Otsuka served as head of the research department from before April and received the same monthly amount.
Otsuka resigned as head of the research department at the end of June and returned his monthly salary for the period from April to June after colleagues spoke to him.
The institute has annual operating expenses of about 100 million yen, almost all of which comes through research commissioned by the Central Research Institute of Electric Power Industry (CRIEPI), based in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward.
CRIEPI has an annual operating budget of 33.9 billion yen for the current fiscal year. Of that amount, close to 30 billion yen is provided by electric power companies, with TEPCO shouldering about 9 billion yen.
JELI has about 20 executives and employees. While all six directors, including the chairman, are law professors, the researchers are all company employees dispatched from nine electric power companies.
The heads of the administrative department and section have traditionally all come from TEPCO.
In response to this latest scandal, a science ministry official said, "We may face criticism for being lax in our dealings with JELI."
However, the official said the ministry would take appropriate steps on the basis of what suspicions arise in the future.
Another panel member also served as part of a JELI study group, but quit that post before becoming a panel member for fear of conflict of interest.
Another panel member quit in June after being offered the position of vice president of Fukushima Medical University. The individual also cited a possible conflict in interest.
(This article was written by Hiroaki Kimura and Tomoyoshi Otsu.)