Public Reactor Hearing Rocked by Alleged Government Shill
Heating up: Nuclear disaster minister Goshi Hosono, flanked by body guards, speaks to an angry audience at a public hearing on nuclear power in Sendai on Sunday as participants raised doubts about the selection process used to pick the speakers for the event. KYODO
SENDAI — A public hearing in Sendai held to gather citizens' opinions on future energy and environmental policy was disrupted Sunday after a Tohoku Electric official inadvertently selected to be one of the nine speakers at the event was blasted as a government shill.
The government-sponsored event was the second in a series of nationwide hearings to gauge public opinion on three options for retaining nuclear power in Japan's energy mix in 2030 — 0 percent, 15 percent or 20 to 25 percent.
The hearing was the first held in a city heavily damaged by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
Expressing what he said was Tohoku Electric Power Co.'s views on nuclear power, the official, who heads the planning department and plays a central role in its business strategy, supported the 20 to 25 percent option.
The uproar began after he identified himself as a Tohoku Electric employee and said: "I will speak by summing up the thoughts of the company."
An uproar immediately ensued, and one person in the audience shouted: "Hasn't the speaker choice been manipulated?"
After that, the hearing was temporarily suspended. Nuclear disaster minister Goshi Hosono had to intervene to calm the audience.
"The company has taken steps to stem manipulation," the utility official said afterward. "I applied (to speak) in the capacity of a private citizen."
The speakers also included three people from Tokyo, a situation critics said might anger people in the Tohoku region.
Hosono said the selection process was "totally random." The meeting was managed by advertising agency Hakuhodo Inc. and the government was kept out of the selection process to maintain fairness, he said.
According to the secretariat of the meeting, 105 people applied to speak at Sunday's event and around 70 percent of them wanted to express views for the zero percent option.
Hosono emphasized the need for fairness in selecting the speakers but was clearly displeased that a Tohoku Electric official had spoken at the event.
"Organizations can present their policies in various ways, so it is best that we hear the views of individuals as much as possible," he said.
Referring to another hearing scheduled to be held in the city of Fukushima on Aug. 1, Hosono hinted that extra measures would be taken.
"Efforts are necessary to ensure the voices of people in Fukushima Prefecture are heard," he said, suggesting that the speakers will not include employees from power companies or from outside the radiation-tainted prefecture.