Despite mounting public concern, the Cabinet yesterday declared that the agency overseeing nuclear safety would be downgraded from a ministerial-level council as part of an ongoing government restructuring plan.
The Cabinet yesterday approved the draft organic law of the nuclear safety regulatory authority, in which the current regulator, the Atomic Energy Council (AEC), would be disbanded and replaced by a third-level independent agency subordinate to the Executive Yuan. Part of the AEC’s functions will also be transferred to two ministries in charge of economic affairs and energy and technology, as part of the government’s efforts to streamline its agencies.
As a third-level agency subordinate to the Executive Yuan, the nuclear safety regulator would have the same rank as an institution like the Aviation Security Council, according to the Cabinet’s Research, Development and Evaluation Commission.
Lawmakers, anti-nuclear activists and even some AEC officials have said that the downgrade would make it more difficult for officials in charge of nuclear safety regulation to coordinate with ministerial-level bodies to ensure nuclear safety.
However, the Executive Yuan dismissed such concerns.
“The draft law shows that the government is resolute in its commitment to enhancing nuclear power plant safety,” Executive Yuan spokesperson Cheng Li-wun (鄭麗文) told a press conference after the Cabinet meeting.
Cheng said the draft bill “marked a significant change in the government’s restructuring plan.”
The initial proposal was that the nuclear safety regulator be placed under the National Science Council, which is to be upgraded to the ministry of technology.
The proposal was rejected by the legislature in February last year.
Cheng quoted Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) as saying at the Cabinet meeting that he was aware of the public’s hope that the nuclear safety regulator should be a ministerial-level agency, but it was “not feasible” given the cap on the number of ministerial-level agencies allowed under current regulations.
At the start of the government reform project two years ago, the legislature enacted the Basic Act Governing Central Administrative Agencies Organizations (中央行政機關組織基準法), which set the ceilings for the number of ministries under the Cabinet at 14 and ministerial-level commissions at eight.
Amendments to the Organic Act of the Executive Yuan (行政院組織法) set only three ministerial-level agencies subordinate to the Cabinet: the Central Election Commission, the Fair Trade Commission and the National Communications Commission.
The two acts have established a framework for government restructuring, leaving the Cabinet with no option to set up one more ministerial-level unit, Cheng quoted Jiang as saying.
Jiang said there was a lack of consensus among lawmakers to review the acts.
According to the draft law, the nuclear safety regulatory agency would be a commission composed of five to seven people, with its members designated by the premier to serve a three-year term and allowed to serve another term if reappointed.
Members of the commission will have the right to exercise their functions independently, Cheng said, adding that the Cabinet would fully respect the commission’s right to exercise its power independently to ensure nuclear safety.
Later yesterday at a meeting with the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) caucus, Jiang pledged that he would deal with issues related to the controversial Fourth Nuclear Power Plant, which has been under construction since 1999, based on professionalism and that policy decisions would only be made after the Executive Yuan has had a thorough discussion with experts.
The government will not ignore public concern over nuclear power plant safety, but neither will its decisions be swayed by populism, Jiang said.