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Crucial lessons in reactor crisis cited

‘ENORMOUS IMPLICATIONS’ Yukiya Amano of the IAEA said the global nuclear community cannot take a ‘business-as-usual approach.’ ‘ENORMOUS IMPLICATIONS’
Yukiya Amano of the IAEA said the global nuclear community cannot take a ‘business-as-usual approach.’
By Veronika Oleksyn
Associated Press / April 5, 2011

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VIENNA — Japan’s reactor crisis poses a major challenge with enormous implications for nuclear power, the head of the UN’s atomic watchdog said yesterday, while separately appearing to criticize the operator of the crippled complex.

Yukiya Amano, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, also stressed that the global nuclear community cannot take a “business-as-usual approach.’’ Lessons must be learned from the fact that the Fukushima Daiichi plant has been leaking radiation into the environment ever since it was hit March 11 by a massive tsunami, he said.

Amano spoke at a meeting for specialists from about 70 countries on scrutinizing the safety of nuclear power plants.

“I know you will agree with me that the crisis at Fukushima Daiichi has enormous implications for nuclear power and confronts all of us with a major challenge,’’ Amano told delegates.

The worries of millions of people around the world about the safety of nuclear energy “must be taken seriously,’’ Amano said, calling for transparency and “rigorous adherence to the most robust international safety standards.’’

“It is clear that more needs to be done to strengthen the safety of nuclear power plants so that the risk of a future accident is significantly reduced,’’ he said.

Speaking to reporters later, Amano appeared to criticize Fukushima’s utility, the Tokyo Electric Power Co., for not learning from earthquake-related incidents in 2007 at its Kashiwazaki Kariwa nuclear power plant. Until now, that was one of Japan’s worst nuclear accidents, killing eight people, sparking fires, and leaking radioactive water.

“The measures taken by the operators as a safety measure [were] not sufficient to prevent this accident,’’ Amano said when asked if the Fukushima catastrophe could have been avoided.

Last month, Japan’s nuclear safety agency criticized TEPCO for failing to inspect critical equipment such as 33 pieces of machinery parts crucial to the cooling systems needed to keep Fukushima’s six nuclear reactors from overheating. Previously, TEPCO had skipped 117 inspections at Kashiwazaki.

Amano said the IAEA would like to send an international mission to Japan as soon as possible to assess the accident. He also said nuclear specialists should be in touch with each other faster in the future after problems like these.

“I am confident that valuable lessons will be learned from the Fukushima Daiichi accident, which will result in substantial improvements in nuclear operating safety, regulation and the overall safety culture,’’ Amano said. Amano’s comments were seconded by Li Ganjie of China’s National Nuclear Safety Administration, who is presiding over the meeting that runs through April 14.

The conference began with a moment of silence for victims of the Japanese disaster.

“Needless to say, the Fukushima reactor accident has left an impact on global nuclear power development and has become a major event in nuclear history,’’ Li said.

The meeting, hosted by the Vienna-based IAEA, centers on the Convention on Nuclear Safety that came into being after the 1979 Three Mile Island and the 1985 Chernobyl nuclear accidents. Adopted in 1994, it commits states to submit reports on the safety of their civil nuclear facilities for review at gatherings every three years.

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