IAEA seeks funds for post-Fukushima nuclear safety

VIENNA Mon Sep 26, 2011 2:24pm BST

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VIENNA (Reuters) - The U.N. atomic agency urged states on Monday to provide extra funding to strengthen global nuclear safety in the wake of Japan's Fukushima accident -- a request some may balk at amid growing economic worries.

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Yukiya Amano, also announced the U.N. body would send a team of experts to Japan next month to help sanitise areas contaminated as a result of the nuclear accident.

"For the engineers, what is going on in the reactor is the main issue of interest. For the local people, the most important is what happens with their house or rice field, so we need to decontaminate," Amano told reporters.

Japan does not have much experience in this area, he said, adding that some people were spraying water and digging up the earth in an attempt to clean up their homes.

"These things should be done properly, otherwise the amount of debris becomes huge. I hope we can give some advice."

The Vienna-based U.N. agency was setting up an "action team" to oversee prompt implementation of newly-agreed measures designed to enhance nuclear safety standards around the world after Fukushima, Amano said.

The IAEA's annual gathering of its 151 member countries last week endorsed an IAEA plan to help ensure there is no repeat of the world's worst nuclear disaster in a quarter of a century.

"The IAEA Action Plan on Nuclear Safety ... requires immediate follow-up," Amano told a one-day session of the agency's 35-nation board on Monday.

The plan, criticised by some nations for not going far enough towards more mandatory measures, outlines a series of voluntary steps aimed at improving reactor safety and emergency preparedness.

Amano made clear the agency needed more money to turn the plan into reality, but did not give details.

BUDGETS SQUEEZED

"Meeting new and expanding demands for assistance from member states in nuclear safety, as well as in other areas, will require an increase in the agency's resources," he said.

"I encourage all countries in a position to do so to make additional resources available to the agency."

Even before Fukushima added to its workload, experts warned that budget austerity in member states may block funding required by the IAEA to deal with growing demand for atomic energy and the attendant risk of weapons proliferation.

The bulk of money for the IAEA, which has more than 2,300 staff, comes from Western member states on a voluntary basis.

For 2010, the agency secured a budget increase of 2.7 percent in real terms to 315 million euros (£279.6 million), but this was considerably less than it had sought.

At a time of economic problems squeezing government finances, some European states have resisted budget hikes for the agency although the United States has increased contributions in recent years.

After a huge earthquake and a massive tsunami struck on March 11, reactor fuel rods at the Japanese plant began melting down as power and cooling functions failed, causing radiation leakage and forcing the evacuation of 80,000 people.

It spurred a rethink about nuclear energy worldwide and calls for more concerted measures, including beefed-up international safety checks of nuclear power plants.

The IAEA plan calls on countries to quickly conduct assessments on how their nuclear reactors would be able to withstand extreme natural hazards, and also encourages them to invite IAEA-organised safety inspections.

(Editing by Matthew Jones)

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