* IAEA no "nuclear safety watchdog" - Amano
* But standards need to be strengthened
* Says nuclear power will remain important option
(Recasts with nuclear safety comments)
By Sylvia Westall and Fredrik Dahl
VIENNA, March 21 International nuclear safety
standards will need to be strengthened after the crisis at a
Japanese atomic power plant triggered by an earthquake and
tsunami, the U.N. nuclear agency chief said on Monday.
But Yukiya Amano, director general of the International
Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), acknowledged it could be difficult
to make such rules mandatory.
Safety issues are the responsibility of individual countries
and the IAEA is not a "nuclear safety watchdog", he said.
But "in some areas, certainly, the standards should be
strengthened", he told reporters. For example, it should be
assessed whether current recommendations regarding major natural
events such as tsunamis were sufficient or not.
Japan's emergency at its crippled Fukushima Daiichi plant
has also put the spotlight on how the IAEA is equipped to deal
with a crisis that could have cross-border implications.
Serving 151 member states, the Vienna-based agency is tasked
with promoting the safe and peaceful use of nuclear power but
lacks the ability to enforce safety standards it recommends --
unlike its powers to curb possible atomic weapons proliferation.
Asked whether he believed the IAEA's safety recommendations
should be obligatory, Amano said this would not be easy.
"It depends on the member states' intentions and I know
already views are very different," he said. "It is not like an
accident happens, let's change the standards and all will be
better, it is not so simple."
Amano, a Japanese national, earlier told the IAEA's
35-nation board that the agency's role in nuclear safety and
standards may need to be re-examined, without elaborating.
NUCLEAR STILL "IMPORTANT" ENERGY OPTION
The IAEA has faced criticism for failing to provide fast
information at the beginning of the disaster to both its member
states and the public.
The agency had said it was reliant on the information given
to it by Japan, and Amano travelled to Tokyo last week to press
authorities there to give his office faster and more data.
"Lessons will need to be learned and the IAEA is where that
discussion should take place. A thorough review of the accident
will be necessary, in which peer review will have an important
role to play," Amano told the closed-door meeting.
"The current international emergency response framework
needs to be reassessed," he said, adding it was largely designed
following the Chernobyl disaster in 1986.
Japan's nuclear situation remained very serious and high
levels of radioactivity had been detected in the area of the
plant, but there was no doubt it would "effectively overcome"
the crisis, Amano said.
He spoke after engineers managed to rig power cables to all
six reactors at the Fukushima complex and started a water pump
at one of them to reverse the overheating that has triggered the
world's worst nuclear crisis in 25 years.
Some workers were later evacuated from one of the most badly
damaged reactors when smoke briefly rose from the site.
Amano said some countries were now reviewing their nuclear
energy plans in view of events in Japan. But "nuclear power will
remain an important and viable option for many countries as a
stable and clean source of energy", he said.
(Editing by Andrew Roche)