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Japan to set up new nuclear safety agency

TOKYO -- 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 yesterday.

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. The nuclear safety agency has also faced a scandal over allegations that its officials tried to secretly manipulate discussions in favor of nuclear power at town meetings that were held before the crisis.

Three senior officials -- the head of the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, the head of the safety agency 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, the safety agency 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.

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