The Rest of the Story
Nucleonics Week reported on the resignation of Akira Omoto from the Japan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC), where he had served as a Commissioner since January 2010. As Nucleonics Week content is available by subscription only, let me summarize the article by saying that it presents several factual events: that Omoto resigned from his position on the JAEC on March 7, that he had been called before the Diet (the Japanese Parliament) on February 26, that he said he was a paid advisor to the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) from November 2009 to March 2012, that he refused to reveal the amount of compensation he received from TEPCO for his advisory services, and that he saw no conflict between his two roles (JAEC Commissioner and TEPCO advisor). The article also reported that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Yoshihide Suga, the chief Cabinet secretary, had both said that the public would find it "difficult to understand" Omoto's view, but that they had rejected a suggestion to fire Omoto.
Since I know Akira Omoto well, I was surprised at this news. Over the years, I've had a number of conversations with him about nuclear activities in Japan, and I had always found him to be honorable, and to take the "high ground" on issues. The more I thought about the article, and the more I communicated with people in Japan, I realized that the Nucleonics Week article had missed a number of relevant points:
- The role of the JAEC is to formulate nuclear power policies, not to regulate or license nuclear power plants, so it seems improbable that Omoto's dual positions could be used to influence government actions on behalf of TEPCO;
- Omoto's position on the JAEC was as a part-time Commissioner, and part-time Commissioners usually hold other positions outside the JAEC;
- Omoto was working for TEPCO prior to his appointment as a JAEC Commissioner, and that work was declared to the Diet as part of his confirmation process;
- Omoto's advisory role to TEPCO focused on activities related to new entrants (based on his experience in his previous position with the IAEA), not on matters related to JAEC jurisdiction; and
- The hearing before the Diet leading to his forced resignation came a year after Omoto had resigned his position as an advisor to TEPCO.
However, it seems to me there are more productive actions the Japanese government could be taking to "clean house." Forcing the resignation of an individual who used to work for the industry in a position that appears to have no conflict with his government role seems cosmetic at best. It is sad to see a good name maligned for what appears to be political purposes.