U.N. atom chief defends safety plan against critics
VIENNA (Reuters) - The U.N. atomic agency chief defended on Monday his proposals to boost global nuclear safety against criticism that they had been watered down, insisting the measures would help lead to a significant improvement in standards.
Japan's Fukushima reactor disaster six months ago spurred a rethink about nuclear energy worldwide and calls for more concerted measures, including beefed-up safety checks of reactors, to make sure such an accident does not recur.
But divisions have since emerged between countries advocating stronger international commitments and others who want to keep safety as a strictly national responsibility.
One group of nations -- including Germany, France, Switzerland, Singapore, Canada and Denmark -- have voiced disappointment about the final draft of a safety action plan put forward by the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency.
They believe it has been weakened in comparison with proposals made by IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano in June, when he suggested the agency could randomly pick 10 percent of the world's some 430 reactors for safety checks.
"It is a matter of regret that the draft now before us does not fully meet our expectations," German envoy Ruediger Luedeking told a meeting of the IAEA's 35-nation board.
"The IAEA and all its member states have to live up to their joint responsibility to ensure that nuclear technology is as safe as humanly possible," he said.
Despite such criticism, diplomats said the board is expected to adopt the action plan by consensus later this week, as no member would want to vote against it.
The United States, India, China and Pakistan -- all big nuclear countries -- are among countries resisting any moves towards mandatory outside inspections of their atomic energy facilities.
Seeking the middle ground, the IAEA appears to have gradually lowered its ambitions in a series of drafts.
The latest has put more emphasis on the voluntary nature of the measures, also regarding the central issue of nuclear plant inspections organised by the IAEA, so-called peer reviews.
COUNTRIES REMAIN IN CHARGE
"Member states weakened the plan in four successive drafts negotiated between the states and the IAEA," said nuclear expert Mark Hibbs of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
But Amano said he was still satisfied with the proposal, saying it would lead to better safety arrangements compared with the situation before Fukushima.
"Adoption of the action plan is a significant step forward," he told reporters. "This action plan is a good one."
He suggested an explosion at a nuclear waste treatment site in southern France earlier on Monday showed the importance to act on safety rather than just discussing it.
A ministerial meeting in June asked the Vienna-based U.N. agency to draw up the plan to help enhance standards in how reactors are able to withstand natural disasters, in how the industry is regulated and in how to respond to emergencies.
The political impact of the massive earthquake and huge tsunami that caused Japan's crisis was particularly strong in Europe, highlighted by Germany's move to close all its reactors by 2022 and Italy's vote to ban nuclear power for decades.
Fuel rods in three reactors at the Japanese complex started melting down when power and cooling functions failed, causing radiation leakage and forcing the evacuation of some 80,000 people. It was the world's worst nuclear accident in 25 years.
Currently there are no mandatory, international nuclear safety regulations, only IAEA recommendations which national regulators are in charge of enforcing. The U.N. agency conducts review missions, but only at a member state's invitation.
Decisions on the safety of nuclear installations will "remain squarely the prerogative of sovereign national governments" also after adoption of the IAEA action plan, Carnegie's Hibbs said.
(Reporting by Fredrik Dahl; editing by Myra MacDonald)
- Tweet this
- Share this
- Digg this