In less than two months, the chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) will change. With current chair Fuketa Toyoshi stepping down, all of the original commissioners appointed when the regulator was set up in 2012 will have left. Fuketa is the last of the NRA senior staff appointed during that early period in NRA’s formation when the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) was in power.
In theory, when Yamanaka Shinsuke assumes the top NRA role on Sept. 22, little should change. While Yamanaka’s candidature had to go through a parliamentary approval process, and the NRA is couched within the MoE, the administrative body operates at arms-length from the government.
Still, many expect (or hope) Yamanaka’s leadership to be different from that of his predecessors. Both Fuketa and the NRA’s first chairman Tanaka Shunichi were reportedly hard on Japan’s major utilities. Power companies complained that even an email from them was viewed as an attempt at subterfuge, and at times communication between the regulator and industry was tense.
Yamanaka’s appointment is viewed as a favorable development by the industry, according to trade media such as the Denki Shimbun. He will also take over at a time when the restart of idled nuclear reactors is a priority for Prime Minister Kishida and his government. With the NRA’s length of reviews now openly questioned by lawmakers and the media – something that was almost taboo for a decade after the Fukushima nuclear disaster – change in regulator leadership is likely to filter into the way the watchdog operates. But even that may not be the silver bullet that Japan’s nuclear utilities need to bring their facilities online.