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4 on Japan nuclear safety team took utility money

Associated Press Modified: November 3, 2012 at 8:30 am •  Published: November 3, 2012

TOKYO (AP) — Four members of a Japanese government team that sets atomic reactor safety standards received funding from utility companies or nuclear manufacturers, raising questions about their neutrality in the wake of last year's tsunami-triggered disaster.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority said Friday that Nagoya University Professor Akio Yamamoto received 27.14 million yen ($339,000) over the past three years for research on reactors. That included 6.28 million yen ($79,000) from a subsidiary of Tokyo Electric Power Co., the utility that runs the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant that suffered meltdowns last year.

The authority said three others on the six-member standards team received industry funding. Getting such money is not illegal, but could call the neutrality of the team into question, since the industry would benefit from laxer standards.

The commission had asked the team members to voluntarily disclose such funding, including grants and donations, in an effort to boost transparency.

Akira Yamaguchi, a professor at Osaka University, received 10 million yen ($125,000) in such money, including 3 million yen from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which makes nuclear plants.

Before, nuclear regulators were in the same ministry that promotes the industry. The Nuclear Regulation Authority was set up this year following calls for a more independent watchdog, and after large and frequent public protests against nuclear power.

The Tokyo Shimbun newspaper reported Saturday that such funding indicates a "danger the measures may turn spineless to reflect the utilities' wishes."

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