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Japan Takes Nuclear Safety Agency Away From Trade Ministry

Japan is removing its nuclear regulatory agency from the control of its trade ministry, dissolving a relationship that was criticized in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster. The new nuclear safety agency will be under the environmental agency, Kyodo News reports.

The move, coming exactly five month after a powerful earthquake and tsunami set off a nuclear crisis in Japan, may help ease criticisms that regulators are too cozy with pro-nuclear interests.

The agency shakeup came as Prime Minister Naoto Kan again confirmed his intention to resign after two pieces of legislation pass: one to help resolve Japan's deficit, and another to promote the nation's use of renewable, not nuclear, energy. That could mean Kan will resign in two weeks, on Aug. 25, according to the Yomiuri Shimbun.

Public support for Kan and his administration has plummeted this year. Recent polls show that approval ratings for the prime minister and his administration now sit below 20 percent.

For Newscast, John Matthews filed this report from Tokyo:

Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency has come under heavy fire in the past few months, most notably by Prime Minister Naoto Kan himself, for not being an independent watchdog over the country's nuclear plants.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano says the agency will be settling into the Environmental Ministry, noting nuclear and environmental issues share a common bond.

The move is the administration's reaction to a building wave of resentment against regulators and their alleged negligence in handling the country's nuclear crisis. The agency will need approval from a divided parliament before re-launching next April.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.