UN nuclear chief warns on post-Japan complacency
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Last Updated: Monday, September 12, 2011, 23:02
Vienna: The head of the UN atomic agency warned on Monday against complacency on nuclear safety six months after the Fukushima disaster, as he admitted his draft global "action plan" had been watered down.

"We must not lose our sense of urgency," International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) head Yukiya Amano said at the start of a regular five-day board meeting of the watchdog in Vienna, according to the text of his remarks.

Just as he made his comments, French emergency services said that there was a risk of radiation leaking after an explosion in an oven at the Marcoule nuclear site near the southern city of Nimes.

The gathering also saw Amano dismiss "greater transparency" by Iran towards IAEA inspectors last month as insufficient to soothe Western worries that Tehran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons.

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 resulting meltdown of reactors 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 scale of the disaster, the worst 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, while in June Italian voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum blocking a return to nuclear power.

Amano, who is Japanese, presented to the board a 12-point "action plan" that he said "represents a significant step forward in strengthening nuclear safety."

According to a draft seen by AFP, the 12-point plan encourages fresh assessments of nuclear plants and of how well countries are prepared for emergencies, as well as more "peer reviews" of reactors by foreign experts.

For some diplomats, however, Amano's proposals have been watered down too much, most notably by Washington and Beijing, by for example stopping short of making such visits mandatory.

Amano conceded as much, saying that in preparing the proposals, the "wide range of views" expressed by IAEA member states "varied in a number of areas" -- diplomatic speak for serious differences of opinion.

He said that "firm and sustained commitment" was needed from all countries for the full implementation of the action plan, saying that public expectations were high. "But it is actions, not words, that count," he said.

Bureau Report

First Published: Monday, September 12, 2011, 23:02

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