Post-Fukushima UN 'action plan' approved

13th September 2011, Comments 0 comments

The UN atomic agency's board approved Tuesday a global nuclear safety "action plan" but critics said it falls well short of lofty promises made in the wake of the Fukushima disaster six months ago.

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.

The March 11 accident at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi plant after a massive earthquake and tsunami forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of people to escape leaking radiation. Engineers are still working to make safe the plant.

The scale of the worst atomic disaster since Chernobyl in 1986 sparked fresh worries worldwide about nuclear safety, with Germany opting to switch off all reactors by 2022 and Italian voters saying no to a return to atomic energy.

The IAEA convened a special ministerial conference on safety that saw agency chief Yukiya Amano declare that "business as usual" was impossible.

But many of his proposals, such as peer reviews being mandatory and 10 percent of the planet's plants being inspected in the next three years, were watered down, most notably because of US pressure, diplomats said.

"This action plan represents a considerable step backwards compared to the wishes of a large share of member states expressed ... in June," Switzerland said.

Germany and France were also said to be unhappy, while others were disappointed there was no time frame for the implementation of the measures proposed.

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

Amano had on Monday conceded some compromises had been necessary, saying views expressed by IAEA members in preparing the action plan "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 had the plan been softened, it was far from certain nations would implement what 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."

Aslihan Tumer from Greenpeace, which wants to see nuclear power phased out worldwide, said the action plan fell way short of what was needed, slamming the IAEA for not being a "real watchdog".

"Nuclear safety standards around the world are clearly not enough. The highest standards need to be met, and countries cannot be left to do it themselves," Tumer told AFP.

The IAEA "never fails not to deliver," Tumer said.

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.

© 2011 AFP

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