Japan seeks Fukushima UN nuclear agency presence

Tokyo wants an international seal of approval for the energy-hungry country`s nuclear industry.

Last Updated: Jan 23, 2012, 23:22 PM IST

Tokyo: Japan is asking the UN`s nuclear
agency to set up a permanent office in Fukushima to monitor
its efforts to contain the world`s worst nuclear accident
since Chernobyl.

The International Atomic Energy Agency was "carefully
considering" the request, said James Lyons, who is leading a
team of IAEA experts reviewing Japan`s safety tests for idled
reactors.

Tokyo wants an international seal of approval for the
energy-hungry country`s nuclear industry to bolster its
faltering efforts at reassuring the public it is safe to
resume atomic operations.

The vast majority of Japan`s 54 commercial nuclear
reactors are offline because popular opposition is preventing
their being restarted in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear
crisis.

The disaster, triggered by the March 11 earthquake and
tsunami, contaminated the environment and forced tens of
thousands of residents around the Fukushima nuclear site, in
northeast Japan, to evacuate their homes.

Many still do not know if or when they will be able to
return.
Utility companies say Japan will experience severe power
shortages if nuclear electricity production is not re-started.

"We are making contact with the International Atomic
Energy Agency to see what`s possible after we received
requests from Fukushima that it hoped IAEA will have a
permanent presence in the area," a Japanese diplomat said,
under customary condition of anonymity.

Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba, whose parliamentary
constituency is in Fukushima, told residents on yesterday that
he was making the push after requests from local leaders.

"We are calling on IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano for
the international agency`s constant presence," he said in a
speech, according to Jiji Press.

The announcement coincided with a visit by a 10-member
team of IAEA experts led by Lyons, the agency`s director of
nuclear installation safety.

"That`s a very important request that we received and
it`s something that is going to take careful consideration by
the IAEA," Lyons told Japanese reporters. "That consideration
is underway now."

At the request of the Japanese government, his team will
review the methodology of Japan`s "stress test" before Tokyo
approves any nuclear reactor re-starts.

The Vienna-based IAEA has offices around the world --
including in Tokyo -- but it does not normally have permanent
bases to monitor commercial reactor sites.

PTI