Post-Fukushima UN 'action plan' approved

AFP , Tuesday 13 Sep 2011

The International Atomic Energy Agency(IAEA) approves a global safety "action pan" for the post-Fukushima nuclear disaster

IAEA head Yukiya Amano (Photo:Reuters)

The UN atomic agency's board approved Tuesday a global safety "action plan" in light of the Fukushima disaster that is however weaker than first proposed in the aftermath of the March accident.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)'s 12-point programme encourages fresh assessments of the world's 440 nuclear plants and emergency measures, as well as more voluntary "peer review" visits by foreign experts.

Members of the 35-member IAEA board of governors approved it by consensus -- without a vote -- behind closed doors on Tuesday before the document goes before a gathering of all 151 members of the Vienna-based body next week.

Earlier drafts however had been more stringent, proposing for example that such visits be mandatory and that 10 percent of nuclear plants worldwide face peer reviews in the next three years.

Diplomats pointed the finger notably at the United States and China for watering down the proposals, to the annoyance of countries such as Germany and France.

"While we understand that we are still in the process of learning lessons from the accident ... this action plan is a sound beginning to learn and act upon what we now know," said Glyn Davies, US ambassador to the IAEA.

He said countries "should focus their efforts initially on completing national assessments and implementing the results of those assessments ... [and] utilize existing instruments and programmes".

On March 11, a 9.0-magnitude quake rocked Japan's Fukushima Daiichi plant. The resulting 14-metre (46-foot) ocean wave knocked out the power supply, the reactor cooling systems and back-up diesel generators.

The subsequent reactor meltdown forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of people and the banning of local farm produce. Six months on, engineers are still fighting to stop radiation leaking out.

The IAEA had criticised Japan's response to the accident, the worst since Chernobyl in 1986, especially its failure to implement the agency's convention on dealing with nuclear emergencies.

The scale of the worst atomic disaster since Chernobyl in 1986 sparked fresh worries worldwide about the safety of the world's 440 nuclear power stations in around 30 countries.

Europe's biggest economy Germany, for example, decided to shut down all reactors by 2022, and Italian voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum blocking a return to nuclear power.

IAEA head Yukiya Amano had on Monday conceded some weakening of the action plan, saying views expressed by IAEA members "varied in a number of areas" -- diplomatic speak for serious differences of opinion.

Mark Hibbs, nuclear analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think-tank, said that not only was the plan watered down, it is far from certain that countries will implement the measures it sets out.

"Many of the points in the action plan are well reasoned, well thought-out and would, if carried out to the best possible extent, certainly lead to safer installations worldwide," Hibbs told AFP.

"The question is whether the member states are going to take up this opportunity and actually do this. We have reasons to think that they will not because they have not committed themselves to it."

The IAEA board, meeting until Friday, was also due to discuss Iran's nuclear activities, which many in the West suspect are aimed at developing atomic weapons, as well as Syria and North Korea.

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