Global Security Newswire
Daily News on Nuclear, Biological & Chemical Weapons, Terrorism and Related Issues
IAEA Board Adopts Atomic Operations Reforms After Japan Crisis
The International Atomic Energy Agency's Board of Governors on Tuesday endorsed policy updates aimed at preventing new atomic accidents, though some of the board's 35 member nations voiced concern that the reforms had been stripped of legal mandates, the Associated Press reported (see GSN, Sept. 9).
Board members backed the measures by consensus amid the crisis at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, which was damaged by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that left Japan with more than 20,000 people missing or dead. Radiation releases on a level not seen since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster forced the evacuation of about 80,000 residents from a 12-mile ring exclusion zone surrounding the site.
Countries including Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand and Singapore have criticized the scheme for failing to empower the International Atomic Energy Agency to ensure recommendations are met. The paper calls on governments to take various actions aimed at identifying and addressing problems in their nonmilitary atomic activities, such as inviting peer entities and the U.N. nuclear watchdog to vet atomic facilities.
Such activities would be authorized only "upon request" of a state with a potentially troubled plant.
"The draft action plan before governors today will be seen as a timid response by the agency," Canada's delegate told the board. "It is disappointing ... that the draft contains few new commitments and little in the way of increased transparency or safety peer reviews," according to the statement (Associated Press/CNBC News, Sept. 13).
No international requirements aimed at preventing atomic accidents presently exist, Reuters reported.
"Member states weakened the plan in four successive drafts negotiated between the states and the IAEA," said Mark Hibbs, an analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Atomic safety policies would "remain squarely the prerogative of sovereign national governments" with the reforms in place, he said.
IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano, though, called the document's enactment "a significant step forward." The document would result in improvements to protective measures over those in place before the Japanese atomic crisis, he said.
"This action plan is a good one," the IAEA chief added (Fredrik Dahl, Reuters I, Sept. 12).
Key countries that resisted an expansion of IAEA authorities to regulate protective measures included Argentina, China, India, Pakistan and Russia, one diplomat told AP, adding the United States was satisfied by entrusting individual nations and their accident prevention agencies and electricity firms to implement the guidelines (Associated Press).
The plan marks a "sound beginning to learn and act upon what we now know" about the Japanese nuclear crisis, U.S. Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency Glyn Davies said in prepared remarks to board members. "We believe member states should focus their efforts initially on completing national assessments (of safety at plants) and implementing the results of those assessments."
German Ambassador Ruediger Luedeking had previously voiced "regret" that the reforms failed to "fully meet our expectations" (Fredrik Dahl, Reuters II, Sept. 13).
Amano expressed the belief that Japan would complete the "cold shutdown" of all reactors at the Fukushima plant as anticipated, Reuters reported.
"The plant operator and the Japanese authorities have been working hard to regain full control of the situation and have made steady progress in the past six months," Amano told the governing board. "The situation at the site remained very serious for many months. The agency's assessment now is that the reactors are essentially stable" (Fredrik Dahl, Reuters III, Sept. 12).
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