UPDATE: The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has drawn up a post-Fukushima road map to avoid or mitigate future nuclear reactor disasters, including peer reviews of national nuclear regulatory agencies and random IAEA safety reviews of nuclear plants.
But the new schemes are only contains recommendations, and the IAEA has no legal authority to enforce them. IAEA chief Yukiya Amano said the new safety measures will only be effective if nations apply them.
Report: UN nuke safety meeting ends with ambitious plans [AFP, 25 June 2011]
The International Atomic Energy Agency’s ministerial meeting ends today in Vienna, and it appears that the meeting will conclude without a high level agreement to implement new safety policies with regards to nuclear energy. Negotiations will resume in September, at the IAEA’s general conference.
Yukiya Amano, the director general of the IAEA began the conference by calling for random safety checks on nuclear reactors around the world, and said that countries should evaluate their reactors within 18 months to make sure they could withstand extreme natural disasters such as the one that struck Fukushima.
Delegates could not come to an agreement on Amano’s proposals, and on the degree to which nuclear technology should be shared across member states.
The United States was one of the countries that objected to the random site checks, calling for the agency to limit the number of facilities that would be subject to the checks.
Russia, on the other hand, has proposed mandatory inspections, and it is expected that Japan would also be in favour.
India and Pakistan are in favor of the IAEA imposing less stringent regulations on international trade of nuclear technology, in order to facilitate access to the latest nuclear safety technology. This request worried a number of member states, however, seeing as both India and Pakistan have in the past used international aid meant for the development of peaceful nuclear power to build nuclear weapons.
Report & Analysis: IAEA to end meeting on nuclear safety without agreeing new rules[Bloomberg, 24 Jun 2011]
Meanwhile, some experts are warning that the nuclear power industry is extremely vulnerable to terrorist attacks that could cause a repeat of the current Fukushima crisis. A number of nuclear nations have very weak security measures at their nuclear plants, and global action to step up security at nuclear facilities is needed to counteract this threat.
Matthew Bunn, an associate professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, who specialises in nuclear issues, warns that “the chance that the next big radioactive release will happen because someone wanted to make it happen may well be bigger than thee chance that it will happen purely by accident.”
Bunn also agreed with Amano’s proposal for random safety checks on nuclear plants, but stated that it overlooked the possibility of reactor damage that is caused by deliberate terrorist action as opposed to freak natural disaster.
Report & Analysis: Nuclear terrorism can cause another Fukushima: expert [Reuters, 23 Jun 2011]