Efforts to patch up global nuclear safety guidelines in the wake of the Fukushima disaster are being hampered by a lack of international political will, diplomats said ahead of next week’s Vienna International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) conference on the accident in Japan.
Shortly after an earthquake and tsunami led to a nuclear meltdown at the Japanese power plant in March, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Yukiya Amano started looking for ways to reassure the global public about the safety of nuclear energy and initiated the ministerial conference that opens Monday.
In the meantime, Germany -- Euorope’s largest economy -- has decided to abandon nuclear power by 2022, and last week Italy voted in a referendum in favour of abandoning nuclear.
Although the draft final statement contains general proposals to strengthen existing safety rules and mechanisms, it is short on actual commitments.
“I think this will be more a photo-opportunity than a substantive conference,” one Arab diplomat said.
Diplomats from several countries, who spoke on condition on anonymity, said the United States, India and China were among the countries that had worked to water down the final document.
For example, the U.S. tried -- unsuccessfully -- to prevent reference to an action plan that Director General Amano will be tasked to formulate by September.
The final text does not propose to make binding IAEA safety missions and standards, which are currently voluntary for member states.
“We are not against making changes,” an Indian diplomat said, explaining that his country thinks it is too early to take decisions before it is fully understood what went wrong in Fukushima.
A Western official said it was not fair to single out the U.S., since there was no broad international push yet for binding and enforceable international safety rules, an argument shared by the Indian diplomat.
Russia and Austria are among the countries that would like to see mandatory safety standards. Pacific countries that may be affected by Fukushima’s radioactive emissions, including the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia, have also pushed for tangible outcomes at the Vienna conference.
Another focus will be on improving the information flow from the nuclear accident country to the IAEA and on to member states and the public.
Japan has acknowledged that its internal and external information policies were inadequate.
The final document draft stresses that “the IAEA should be further enabled to meet the high level of public expectation to provide timely, factually correct and objective information and assessments.” The nuclear agency was slow to react to the nuclear disaster in the first days, several diplomats said. Some countries have criticized the IAEA for providing little independent analysis of data received from Japan.
“The IAEA has not yet understood that it should act as a go-to point for information,” a Western European diplomat said.
Although most diplomats showed little optimism about the Vienna conference, some said it could be the starting point of a process that has already been started by recent meetings of the G8 group of economic powers and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development on learning lessons from Fukushima.
But they warned that the IAEA should make sure to retain the leading role in the process that includes a planned U.N. conferences in New York in September.
“We need a nuclear agency that is ready to play its role, and not one that says, ‘It’s not our crisis’,” the European diplomat said.