'Good progress' in global nuclear safety: IAEA

The UN atomic watchdog said Wednesday "good progress" was being made in enhancing global nuclear safety, almost a year after implementing an action plan in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.

The programme implemented by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) last September involves fresh assessments of the world's 440 nuclear plants and emergency measures, as well as more voluntary "peer review" visits by foreign experts.

"I believe that nuclear power plants have already become safer as a result of the measures taken as outlined in the action plan on nuclear safety," said Denis Flory, the IAEA's deputy director general for nuclear safety and security.

"Good progress continues to be made... but the success of this action plan in strengthening nuclear safety is dependent upon its implementation through full cooperation and participation of member states," he said in a keynote speech at a nuclear safety seminar held in Singapore.

Japan was struck on March 11, 2011 by one of the strongest earthquakes in modern times which sent a tsunami crashing into the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, forcing tens of thousands of people to flee as radioactivity spewed into the air.

The nuclear crisis did not directly claim any lives, although more than 19,000 people were killed by the force of the tsunami in Japan's worst post-World War II disaster.

In his speech in Singapore, Flory also said the IAEA was working with countries to boost rapid response capabilities during nuclear disasters.

One of the options being explored is for national teams trained to deal with nuclear disasters to be made internationally available through the agency's Response and Assistance Network, he added.

"In an era of instant communication, the Fukushima accident demonstrated the need for a stronger role of the IAEA to meet the expectations of member states, and the public," Flory said.

Flory also cautioned countries embarking on new nuclear projects to exercise "the highest level of transparency and openness in communication" in order to allay public concerns over safety issues.

"Nuclear energy remains a viable option for many countries as they consider their future energy mix," he said.

"But we must not forget that public confidence in the safety of nuclear power was badly damaged by the Fukushima Daiichi accident."

Source: AFP

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