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Japan to set up new nuclear watchdog

Major regulatory overhaul, as Fukushima operators build massive tent to cover damaged reactor.

Japan fukushima disaster zone 2011 04 14Enlarge
The sun sets on April 13, 2011, over debris still piled up nearly five weeks after the earthquake and tsunami disaster devastated the city of Ishinomaki in Miyagi prefecture. (Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images)

Japan is to establish a new nuclear watchdog under the country's Environment Ministry, as the fallout continues at the country's Fukushima No. 1 power plant.

Media reports in Japan say the government of Prime Minister Naoto Kan on Friday agreed the nuclear agency should fall under the remit of the Environment Ministry, and not the Cabinet.

According to The Japan Times, government sources said the Cabinet Office was dropped because it had close ties with the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

Japan's existing Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) is part of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which actively promotes nuclear power.

It has come under criticism following the March earthquake and tsunami that devastated eastern Japan for failures in correctly supervising the industry, and its slow response to the nuclear meltdown.

(Read more on GP: Is Japan's meltdown a tourist's delight?)

Agence France Presse reports that the new agency will consist of several hundred officials, and is expected to be active by April next year.

Meanwhile legislation allowing Japan's central government to remove debris from from affected areas was also enacted on Friday.

The law means that the central government will meet 95 percent of the costs, with local governments to shoulder the remaining costs, reports The Japan Daily.

Tepco, the operator of the Fukushima plant said on Friday it was building a large tent to cover its badly damaged reactor No. 1, in the hope of stopping the spread of leaked radioactive materials.

More than two-thirds of Japan's 54 reactors are offline and undergoing safety checks.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/asia-pacific/japan/110812/japan-nuclear-watchdog-nisa-fukushima-tent