An action plan to increase nuclear safety in the wake of the Fukushima disaster was adopted Tuesday at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, amid criticism from several countries that the actions are only voluntary.
The plan was based on a first analysis of the nuclear accident at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi power station, which was not prepared for the massive tsunami and earthquake that hit in March.
The 35 countries represented on the IAEA board governors unanimously adopted the document after what one diplomat called a “tough debate.” It asks countries to improve nuclear safety by conducting stress tests, taking into account massive natural disasters like those in Japan, and by updating international safety benchmarks.
It also aims to increase the number of IAEA inspections and to improve transparency about accidents and safety problems.
“From the Swiss viewpoint, the action plan does not correctly reflect the reality of the nuclear risks that humanity faces,” Switzerland said at the board.
Switzerland was among the group that wanted more binding commitments, along with countries such as Germany, Austria, Singapore and Canada, which called it “timid.” Those countries all stressed that the action plan should be seen as an evolving document that can be improved over time.
But nuclear power producers like the United States, China and India had opposed creating additional binding rules and giving more power to the Vienna-based nuclear agency.
U.S. envoy Glyn Davies said that “to the extent practical, member states and the agency should utilize existing instruments and programs to undertake the actions.” Currently, nuclear safety is a matter for governments to deal with, with the IAEA playing mostly an advisory role.
A Western diplomat told the German Press Agency dpa it would have been difficult to negotiate new obligations for countries when it comes to IAEA inspections, because there would have to be new rules on whether the IAEA’s recommendations are also binding.
Among the group of critical countries, there was the view that solving such questions would still be possible and necessary.
“No-one said it would be easy,” said Markus Straub, a senior Swiss nuclear regulatory official.