Nuclear plant firms adopt landmark code of conduct

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The world's nuclear power plant exporters announced Thursday a first-ever code of conduct, which they hope will raise safety standards, prevent proliferation, and enhance environmental protection.

They agreed to six principles addressing everything from physical safety and security to ethics and compensation for damage in the event of an accident.

The agreement, which is not legally binding, was finalized earlier this year after an arduous three-year process aimed at nailing down corporate standards and nuclear responsibility.

Ariel Levite of the Nuclear Policy Program at Carnegie Institute for International Peace, the Washington-based think tank that brought together the eight firms which eventually signed the pact, said some of the companies had already implemented the standards in dealing with potential client states.

The process, he said, has helped "heighten the sensitivity of the pertinent corporations, not just to the responsibilities and the obligations to their shareholders, their home states, the clients, and to... state regulators, but also highlight their nuclear corporate social responsibility duties."

The code's adopters include French energy giant Areva; Atomstroyexport of Russia; Canada's Candu Energy; US-Japanese firm GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy; Korea Electric Power Company; Japan's Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Toshiba; and US giant Westinghouse.

The China National Nuclear Corporation participated in early talks but did not adopt the code.

Aside from requiring signatories to adopt proliferation-resistant designs in their plants, the code expects customer states be party to the International Atomic Energy Agency's Convention on Nuclear Safety.

That would rule out non-signatories Iran and North Korea, two nations with nuclear power that have been at the center of international disputes over nuclear weapons.

"In adopting these non-proliferation safeguard principles, exporters of nuclear power plants are demonstrating that they will act as responsible stakeholders of the global nuclear non-proliferation regime," said Pierre Goldschmidt, a former deputy director of safeguards at IAEA, which helped in the principles process.

The IAEA has said some 60 countries have recently expressed interest in acquiring a nuclear power plant, and that about 15 of them may aquire a plant or start building one over the next decade.

© 2011 AFP

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