Familiar faces win ¥1.6 billion in nuclear public relations projects after Fukushima disaster
Asahi Shimbun 17 June 2013
By SATOSHI OTANI/ Staff Writer
Nearly 70 percent of government spending to regain public trust in nuclear energy has landed at organizations that employ retired bureaucrats or former executives of electric power companies, The Asahi Shimbun has found.
In the two fiscal years after the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, the industry ministry awarded 49 contracts and the science ministry provided 18 for various projects worth 2.48 billion yen ($26.2 million) to publicize and educate the public on nuclear energy.
Ten organizations with either retired bureaucrats or executives of utilities won 33 of those projects worth 1.63 billion yen, or 66 percent of the total. The remaining projects were contracted out to advertising companies, according to documents.
The funds used in the projects come from taxes that are included in monthly electric bills.
The budget to promote nuclear energy was cut to about half of the level before the Fukushima nuclear disaster amid concerns about additional accidents and criticism against government officials who had touted the safety of nuclear energy.
The ministries’ remaining programs were tailored to regain public trust by providing information on nuclear energy policy and promoting an understanding of radiation.
The cozy ties between politicians, bureaucrats, regulators and businesses in the “nuclear village’’ were also attacked for promoting collusion. One target of criticism was “amakudari,” the practice in which retired ministry officials gain employment at companies and organizations that are overseen by those ministries.
Officials from the industry and science ministries said the hiring practices of organizations did not influence the bidding process for the projects.
“The presence of retired bureaucrats is not a standard for deciding on contract winners, and there is nothing arbitrary about the selection process,” said an official with the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Industry Division within the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy under the industry ministry.
However, a number of the contracts were won by default–there were no other bidders.
The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry spent 1.48 billion yen in its public relations program for nuclear energy in fiscal 2011 and 2012. The program is mainly directed at citizens and municipalities hosting nuclear power plants, and much of the expenses were used to arrange lectures by nuclear energy scientists and provide workshops related to radioactive waste.
The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology used 1 billion yen in its program to support education on nuclear energy over the same period. The projects included the leasing of radiation detection equipment, seminars on radiation targeting teachers, and advertisements in newspapers and on TV.
Documents obtained from the two ministries showed that 34 private-sector companies as well as foundations and other organizations won contracts over those two years.
Six contract winners were employing retired bureaucrats from the two ministries as directors. And three of them–the Japan Science Foundation, the Radioactive Waste Management Funding and Research Center and the Tsukuba Expo ’85 Memorial Foundation–had retired bureaucrats on the payroll as full-time executives.
Those three organizations were the only ones that revealed the pay of their executives. Full-time directors had annual salaries of about 16 million yen.
Four other contract-winning organizations had retired or current executives of electric power companies serving as directors or auditors.
Contracts are normally won in an open bidding process. But almost all of the public relations projects were awarded based on the commissioning body’s appraisal of the bid proposal and technical skills.
Only one bid was placed for 10 of the 33 contracts won by the 10 organizations. The average winning bid was 96.8 percent of the predetermined maximum amount of the contract.
Before the Fukushima nuclear accident, between 2 billion and 3 billion yen a year was spent on public relations projects for nuclear power.
But after the triple meltdowns at the plant, those projects came under fire for spreading the false “safety myth” about nuclear power generation.
The two ministries scrapped some public relations projects that had been regular fixtures, such as poster contests and advertisements in in-flight and women’s magazines.
“After the Fukushima nuclear accident, we conducted projects to meet the needs of the public in learning about radiation,” said an official with the Atomic Energy Division of the science ministry. “Bidding is conducted based on established regulations, and we do not give priority to those organizations with retired bureaucrats.”
However, one project in Hokkaido had a double involvement with retired officials.
In Horonobe in northern Hokkaido, a facility designed to educate the public about burying radioactive waste within an artificial barrier was built next to a larger center operated by the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA).
Construction on the facility started in fiscal 2008, and 910 million yen had been spent on the project by fiscal 2012.
The facility opened in April 2010 and will be completed this fiscal year.
Experiments at the facility are conducted jointly by the JAEA and the Radioactive Waste Management Funding and Research Center.
The research center has won contracts to build and manage the facility year after year because it has been the sole bidder.
But since there are no center employees at the Horonobe facility, the actual management work has been subcontracted to Tokyo-based Pesco Co.
Three former high-ranking officials of JAEA now work for Pesco, including the company president.