VIENNA — the UN atomic agency said Monday it would set up a "action team" to help prevent nuclear accidents around the world following the Fukushima disaster in Japan. The "compact, dedicated team" will oversee "prompt implementation" of a series of safety measures agreed this month by members of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN body's head Yukiya Amano said.
"The IAEA Action Plan on nuclear safety ... requires immediate follow-up," Amano, himself Japanese, told a meeting of the agency's 35-member board at its Vienna headquarters, according to the text of his speech.
The action plan encourages the 30-odd countries with atomic energy to invite foreign experts to inspect their reactors in "peer reviews" to assess operational safety and how prepared they are for emergencies.
The program has been criticized, however, after initial proposals — such as peer reviews being mandatory and 10 percent of the planet's 440 reactors being inspected in the next three years — were watered down.
Amano also said on Monday that some countries had already requested peer reviews, or announced their intention to do so, but called on member states to make more "resources" available to the agency. The March 11 accident at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi plant after a massive earthquake and tsunami forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of people to escape leaking radiation.
Engineers are still working to make the plant safe. The scale of the worst atomic disaster since Chernobyl in 1986 sparked fresh worries worldwide, with Germany and Switzerland deciding to phase out nuclear power and Italian voters saying no to a return to atomic energy.
Most countries, however, notably in the developing world, still want to expand their use of nuclear power; with the IAEA projecting between 90 and 350 new reactors will be built worldwide by 2030. (AFP)