Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Japan Atomic Energy Commission:

A New Leader at the Helm

The House of Representatives of the Japanese Diet recently passed a bill appointing three new Commissioners to the Japan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC).  Yoshiaki Oka, who is presently a professor of nuclear engineering in the science and engineering faculty of Waseda University was appointed as chairman of the JAEC.  In addition, Tomoko Nakanishi, a professor at the Graduate School of Agricultural and Life Sciences at the University of Tokyo and Nobuyasu Abe, director of the Center for the Promotion of Disarmament and Non-Proliferation at the Japan Institute of International Affairs, were appointed as JAEC Commissioners.

It is important to note that these 3 individuals will take over their new duties during a time of change and uncertainty, not only for the role of nuclear power in Japan, but also for the role of the JAEC itself.  My understanding is that the JAEC will no longer be charged with promoting nuclear power, but rather, "will focus in various ways on particular aspects of nuclear-related issues."

What this will mean in practice, I am not sure.  One hint may be that on February 14, coincidentally (I assume) the same day as the Diet acted on these appointments, the Radioactive Waste Working Group of the Advisory Committee for Natural Resources and Energy, which is under the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), identified a role for the JAEC as a third-party evaluator, or "referee," for issues related to geologic disposal.  

Nor do I know all the new Commissioners or their capabilities.  However, I do know the new Chairman, Yoshiaki Oka, quite well, having worked with him in organizing one conference, participating in another conference, and working together on several American Nuclear Society activities, and I can attest to the fact that he comes to this position with strong credentials.  His background includes bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees in nuclear engineering from the University of Tokyo (in 1969, 1971 and 1974, respectively); a career as a professor of nuclear engineering at the University of Tokyo from 1974 to 2010; and his current position as a professor of nuclear engineering at Waseda University since 2010.

In addition to these positions, Professor Oka has been active in several professional societies, and has served as president of the Atomic Energy Society of Japan (2008-9) and as a member of the Board of Directors of the American Nuclear Society (2001-4).  He has led research projects on super-critical light water reactors, as well as a Japanese-government funded Global Center of Excellence (COE) on "Nuclear Education and Research Initiative," and has authored or co-authored several books on nuclear reactor design and technology.

Of course, the challenges of running a government agency are different from that of working in an academic institution or running a research program, and the challenges of redefining the mission of an organization are that much greater.  Nevertheless, it is very helpful for a person leading the JAEC to start from a strong technical base, and the new chairman certainly has those credentials.  As a friend and colleague through a variety of activities over several years, I wish him great success in this new endeavor.  I also wish the best to his colleagues.

And to the outgoing JAEC Chairman, Dr. Shunsuke Kondo, who I also know for many years, I extend my congratulations on his successful completion of a remarkable 10 years as Chairman, including his role in leading the JAEC in the difficult time since the Fukushima accident.  I also extend to him my best wishes for whatever new challenges he undertakes.


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