x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

France leads way in nuclear safety standards process

France will host a meeting of nuclear industry experts from the Group of 20 (G20) next month to formulate global standards after the Fukushima power station disaster in Japan.

NANJING // France will host a meeting of nuclear industry experts from the Group of 20 (G20) next month to formulate global standards after the Fukushima power station disaster in Japan.

Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, unveiled the plan after a forum of the G20 leading and emerging economies in Nanking, China.

The summit will take in the proposals hammered out at a meeting of energy advisers from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday.

Given the seriousness of the crisis in Japan, the French energy minister Eric Besson said G20 energy experts would meet before the Abu Dhabi gathering to discuss safety issues.

"Before the end of June, I will bring together G20 energy ministers in order to reach operational conclusions about safety tests," Mr Besson said.

Mr Sarkozy confirmed next month's meeting as he left Nanjing.

"We will ask the nuclear safety authorities of the Group of 20 countries to meet, if possible, in Paris during May to define international nuclear safety standards," he said.

"We need international safety standards before the end of the year. It is absolutely not normal that international nuclear safety regulations don't exist."

Mr Sarkozy was the first foreign leader to visit Japan since the earthquake and tsunami devastated the country on March 11 and triggered a nuclear disaster at the Fukushima power station.

Apart from the nuclear issue, the main talking point at the G20 was global currencies.

Timothy Geithner, the US Treasury secretary, dismissed China's call for tightly controlled exchange-rate regimes and said flexibility was the key to global growth.

"We believe countries should have flexible exchange-rate systems, independent central banks, and permit the free movement of capital flows," Mr Geithner said.

Even before the forum began, the thorny question of China's undervalued currency disappeared from the agenda. But senior political figures, finance ministers and central bankers did edge towards a consensus on the need to include the yuan in the basket of currencies that makes up the Special Drawing Rights (SDR), the IMF's in-house money.

"Without rules, the international monetary and financial system is incapable of forestalling crises, financial bubbles and the widening of imbalances," Mr Sarkozy said.

"Without rules and supervision, the world runs the risk of being condemned to increasingly serious and severe crises."

But lurking in the background was the currency spat between the US and China. In a veiled reference to the subject, Mr Geithner said easing controls on exchange rates and shifting to more market-oriented policies were key steps towards managing rising prices.

"This is the most important problem to solve in the international monetary system today. But it is not a complicated problem to solve," he said. "It does not require a new treaty, or a new institution. It can be achieved by national actions."

Beijing signalled its frustrations with Washington's stimulus policies, which the Chinese say are fanning strong increases in commodity prices.

China, Brazil and South Korea have all criticised the US Federal Reserve's US$600 billion (Dh2.2 trillion) stimulus programme for driving down the dollar and fuelling asset bubbles in emerging markets.

Since 2009, the G20 has lost much of the unity of purpose it displayed at the height of the global financial crisis.

China bitterly opposes the use of foreign exchange and currency reserves as a measure of global imbalances, and is not appearing to be the ally France had hoped for at the start of the country's G20 presidency last year.

Mr Sarkozy has made reform of the international monetary system the main plank of the presidency.

The only head of state attending the gathering, he told finance chiefs the IMF should be given the power to police rules hoped to promote currency market stability.

"Greater supervision by the IMF of nations' balance of payments and reserves appears indispensible," Mr Sarkozy said. "France supports modifying the IMF's status to expand its oversight capacity."

France seized on a proposal made two years ago by the People's Bank of China governor Zhou Xiaochuan to turn the SDR into a global reserve currency that would eventually replace the dollar.

But Beijing has become less enthusiastic about the SDR since, and a number of senior financial officials have said Mr Zhou's proposal was largely an academic exercise.