IAEA chief: Nuclear safety must be improved

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency on Tuesday urged a worldwide safety review to prevent new nuclear disasters, but acknowledged that since the IAEA lacks enforcing authority, any improvements are only effective if countries apply them.

IAEA chief Yukiya Amano’s comments to a meeting of government ministers and other senior delegates of the 151-member IAEA, reflected the fact that most countries want any new safety measures to be voluntary — and that they work only if observed by nations with nuclear reactors.

“Even the best safety standards are useless unless they are actually implemented,” Amano said.

And Ecology Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet of France — a strong opponent of outside regulation — told the meeting that “the implementation of commitment on nuclear safety depends of the willingness of each state obviously, since nuclear safety is primarily a national responsibility.”

Asked outside the meeting if he would like to see the IAEA have the same authority against safety violators as it now has against nuclear proliferators — which includes referral to the U.N. Security Council — Amano said: “I do not exclude that possibility.”

But he said a sense of post-Fukushima urgency dictated action now under existing rules.

“We have to move by days, weeks, months, and I cannot wait years” — the time it would take to revise the IAEA’s mandate for the 35-nation board — he said. “We need to have a sense of urgency.”

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