In a move to strengthen global nuclear safety following Japan’s Fukushima disaster six months ago, the U.N. atomic agency’s 35-nation board adopted a new action plan.
The plan, an eight-page document put forward by Director General Yukiya Amano of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is a series of voluntary steps meant to enhance standards worldwide.
While the plan won approval, it was not without acrimony. “There were a number of critical voices,” one diplomat said about the closed-door discussions, referring to countries that had made clear they wanted firmer action at the international level.
Japan’s Fukushima reactor disaster in March caused countries to rethink nuclear energy on a global basis and calls for more concerted measures, including beefed-up safety checks of reactors, to make sure that type of accident does not recur.
One group of nations — Germany, France, Switzerland, Singapore, Canada and Denmark — voiced disappointment about the final version of the IAEA’s safety plan for not going far enough.
The United States, India, China and Pakistan — all big nuclear countries — were among countries resisting any moves toward mandatory outside inspections of their atomic energy facilities.
Seeking the middle ground, the IAEA appeared to have gradually lowered its ambitions in a series of drafts.
The adopted plan placed more emphasis on the voluntary nature of the measures than earlier versions, also regarding the central issue of nuclear plant inspections organized by the IAEA.
A ministerial meeting in June asked the Vienna-based U.N. agency to draw up the plan to help improve standards in how reactors are able to withstand natural disasters, in how the industry is regulated and in how to respond to emergencies.
The political impact of the massive earthquake and huge tsunami that caused Japan’s crisis was particularly strong in Europe, highlighted by Germany’s move to close all its reactors by 2022 and Italy’s vote to ban nuclear power for decades.
Fuel rods in three reactors at the Japanese complex started melting down when power and cooling functions failed, causing radiation leakage and forcing the evacuation of 80,000 people.
Currently there are no mandatory, international nuclear safety regulations, only IAEA recommendations which national regulators are in charge of enforcing. The U.N. agency conducts review missions, but only at a member state’s invitation.