The damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear facility in Okuma, Fukushima prefecture, northeastern Japan, March, (AP).
Japan's government has decided to set up a new nuclear regulatory agency under the Environment Ministry instead of the trade ministry to increase its independence after the country's atomic disaster, officials said Thursday.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said the Cabinet is expected to approve the plan by Monday.
The current Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency has been widely criticized for cozy ties with the nuclear industry under the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which promotes nuclear energy.
"We expect to make the agency an affiliate of the Environment Agency," Edano said. "Environment and nuclear issues have a certain affinity for each other."
Public opinion has turned against nuclear regulators and the industry following a massive March 11 earthquake and tsunami that triggered a nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.
The disasters destroyed power and cooling systems at the plant, causing three of its reactor cores to melt and large amounts of radiation to leak outside the complex in the world's worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.
The government has been under fire over its response to the crisis. NISA has also faced a scandal over recent allegations that its officials tried to secretly manipulate discussions in favor of nuclear power at a number of town meetings that were held before the crisis.
Three senior officials — the head of the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, the head of NISA and a vice minister at the trade and industry ministry — were fired last week in a shake-up aimed at calming the public uproar.
Under the plan, drafted by Goshi Hosono, minister in charge of the nuclear crisis, NISA would be integrated with the Nuclear Safety Commission, an independent panel of experts under the Cabinet Office, to become a more independent entity distanced from the nuclear industry and other promoters of atomic power.
"We must spin off NISA from the trade ministry as soon as possible to keep the regulator away from the promoter," Hosono told reporters Wednesday.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan told a parliamentary session Thursday that "someone who is not a blind advocate of nuclear safety or promoter of nuclear energy but is fully aware of the problems of nuclear power" should head the new regulatory agency.
The embattled prime minister, who has signaled his intention to step down in coming weeks, has vowed to contain the Fukushima nuclear crisis by early January, overhaul the country's nuclear regulatory framework and scale down Japan's dependency on nuclear energy.
The new entity would require parliamentary approval before its expected launch next April.