International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Yukiya Amano

IAEA states endorse global nuclear safety plan

A nuclear safety action plan post-Fukushima has been backed by the U.N. nuclear agency's 151 member states.

Despite some criticism that it does not go far enough, the annual General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna approved by consensus the plan prepared by the office of IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano.

"In order to further strengthen global nuclear safety, this action plan will need to be implemented in a prompt and most effective manner through concrete measures," Japan's IAEA envoy, Takeshi Nakane, said.

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

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

The board's debate however has underlined divisions between states seeking stronger international commitments and others wanting safety to remain an issue strictly for national authorities.

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

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

"We often hear it said that the sovereign states alone have the responsibility for assuring the safety of their nuclear installations," Canadian ambassador John Barrett said.

But "they also have the responsibility to assure their neighbours and others in the international community that their use of nuclear energy is safe -- because nuclear accidents, should they occur, do not respect state boundaries in their consequences."

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.

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," he added.

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