Oil Report

Spanish nuclear expert enters race to lead IAEA

VIENNA, April 9 (Reuters) - A Spanish nuclear power specialist has entered the race to lead the U.N. nuclear watchdog following last month’s inconclusive vote to replace Mohamed ElBaradei.

Luis Echavarri, 59, head of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s nuclear energy arm, confirmed his candidature to be director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency on Thursday.

The director general oversees a global inspectorate that seeks to detect and deter covert diversions of nuclear energy to bomb-making and to promote peaceful uses of the atom, in keeping with the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

ElBaradei has held the role since 1997 and delegations are keen to avoid a prolonged, divisive succession battle given the challenges facing the IAEA, including technical but politically charged reports on agency investigations into suspected proliferation activity.

Iran and Syria are under scrutiny. North Korea, Libya and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq were subject to earlier investigations.

An engineer and nuclear safety expert, Echavarri has been head of the OECD’s Nuclear Energy Agency since 1997. In his earlier career, spanning more than 35 years in the nuclear field, he managed power plants in Spain.

“I think my experience gives me a political grasp of the issues as well as technical competency,” he told Reuters by telephone.

Spain submitted his candidature to the agency’s 35-nation board of governors on Wednesday, Echavarri said.

Echavarri joins new contenders from Slovenia and Malaysia, and a renomination from Japan -- Yukiya Amano, a non-proliferation veteran who failed to garner enough votes in the first vote.

Neither of the original candidates, Amano and South African diplomat Abdul Samad Minty, were seen as broad-based enough to replace ElBaradei, who steps down in November this year.

“Many have countries have called on Spain saying I could play that role -- to meditate between different sensitivities surrounding the IAEA,” Echavarri said.

“I have a lot experience in dealing with many countries with different policies and experience with both developing and industrialised nations.”

Board chairman Algeria invited fresh nominations following the inconclusive two-way election and another vote will be held in May just in time for the board’s meeting the following month.