TOKYO, Aug. 30 (Kyodo) -- Central government officials were involved in attempts to manipulate how public opinion on nuclear power is presented at government-sponsored symposiums, a third-party panel investigating the matter said Tuesday.
According to an interim report the panel submitted to the industry ministry the same day, officials of the government's nuclear safety agency asked utility firms to solicit the attendance of people related to the utilities at nuclear power symposiums in 2005, 2006 and 2007 and let them voice opinions supportive of nuclear plants.
The three "pluthermal" nuclear project symposiums were those held by Kyushu Electric Power Co. in October 2005 on its Genkai power plant, Shikoku Electric Power Co. in June 2006 on its Ikata plant and Chubu Electric Power Co. in August 2007 on its Hamaoka plant.
Pluthermal power generation uses plutonium-uranium mixed oxide fuel, which contains plutonium extracted from spent fuel, in an existing reactor and is an important pillar of Japan's nuclear program.
"It's very regrettable that the government's involvement in the pluthermal symposiums linked to the Genkai, Ikata and Hamaoka nuclear power plants was confirmed," Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Banri Kaieda said in a statement.
Panel head Takashi Oizumi, a lawyer who once headed the Osaka High Public Prosecutors Office, said at a press conference that government officials' involvement is also suspected in five more cases at similar events held by Kyushu Electric and Tohoku Electric Power Co., and that the panel will investigate the matter further.
The panel consisting of four legal experts aims to compile a final report by the end of September.
Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency chief Hiroyuki Fukano offered an apology for the agency officials' involvement at a separate press conference, saying, "I apologize to the citizens and those concerned."
The panel was set up earlier this month to investigate allegations that the nuclear safety agency asked utilities to dress up public symposiums on atomic energy to make local communities appear supportive of nuclearpower plants.
State-sponsored symposiums on nuclear power have been held across the country to enable local leaders to consider the operations of nuclear power plants in their jurisdictions.