September 22, 2011 / 6:17 PM / in 6 years

IAEA states back post-Fukushima nuclear safety plan

VIENNA (Reuters) - The U.N. nuclear agency endorsed an action plan on Thursday to help strengthen global nuclear safety in the wake of Japan’s Fukushima accident six months ago, despite criticism from some countries that it does not go far enough.

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s 151 member states, at their annual general conference in Vienna, approved by consensus the plan prepared by the office of IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano.

It is “both a rallying point and a blueprint for strengthening nuclear safety worldwide,” Amano said.

“It contains concrete and achievable actions to make nuclear safety post-Fukushima more robust and effective than before.”

After a huge earthquake and a massive tsunami struck on March 11, reactor fuel rods at the Japanese plant began melting down as power and cooling functions failed, causing radiation leakage and forcing the evacuation of 80,000 people.

The disaster spurred a rethink about nuclear energy worldwide and calls for more concerted measures, including beefed-up international safety checks of reactors, to make sure such an accident does not recur.

The IAEA plan, outlining a series of voluntary measures intended to help prevent a repeat of such an accident anywhere in the world, had been cleared by the IAEA’s 35-nation governing board last week, also by consensus.

It calls on countries to promptly carry out assessments of their nuclear power plants on how they would be able to withstand extreme natural hazards as well as steps to strengthen emergency preparedness and information.

But the board’s debate underlined divisions between states seeking more international commitments and others wanting safety to remain an issue strictly for national authorities.

One group of nations -- including Germany, France, Switzerland, Singapore, Canada and Denmark -- voiced disappointment about the final version of the IAEA’s safety action plan for not including stricter measures.

Speaking at the United Nations on Thursday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the international community must boost nuclear safety with mandatory safety inspections and a rapid action force to contain disasters like Fukushima.

The United States, India, China and Pakistan were among countries stressing the responsibility of national authorities, making clear they opposed any moves toward mandatory outside safety inspections of their nuclear installations.

Addressing the conference on Monday, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said Washington supported implementation of the action plan ”to address lessons learned from Fukushima.

“We must, however, maintain the central role of national regulators and plant operators in achieving safety objectives.”

Amano said in his statement on Thursday that the plan must be implemented “fully and vigorously ... we must not lose our sense of urgency. Public expectations are very high.”

Editing by Roger Atwood

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