x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Fukushima post-mortem under way

As ministers debate nuclear safety standards behind closed doors in Vienna the spotlight is on changing the industry's culture of secrecy.

Yukiya Amano, the director general of the IAEA, mapped out a path for strengthening safety standards. EPA
Yukiya Amano, the director general of the IAEA, mapped out a path for strengthening safety standards. EPA

The UN nuclear watchdog has been seeking greater powers to police atomic plant safety after the partial meltdown of three Japanese reactors.

Officials from the UAE and the 150 other members of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) gathered in Vienna yesterday for their first post-mortem of the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in March, when a tsunami and earthquake crippled the reactors and sent engineers scrambling to halt the spread of radiation.

Yukiya Amano, the director general of the IAEA, mapped out a path for strengthening safety standards, from random peer reviews to more funding for the UN agency.

"Even the best safety standards are useless unless they are actually implemented," Mr Amano told ministers at the start of a week-long debate. "To meet sharply increased requirements for assistance in all areas of nuclear safety, we need to consider new and innovative ways of funding, alongside traditional approaches."

The ability of Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), the Japanese utility, to recover from Fukushima's financial impact was cast into further doubt when Moody's Investors Service downgraded its credit rating yesterday.

It was the fourth downgrade since March, relegating Tepco to "junk" status to reflect "further escalation of costs and damages from the continuing Fukushima nuclear plant disaster and increased concern that government support measures may not completely protect creditors from losses".

Any reforms of the industry long known for its secrecy will have implications for the UAE as it prepares to deploy four reactors over the next decade. Officials from the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation, the UAE watchdog, have flown to Vienna for the talks.

The UAE's nuclear authorities are closely following the events in Japan and possible changes in industry standards as they proceed with a US$20 billion (Dh73.46bn) plan to build four reactors in the Western Region, with the first scheduled to come online in 2017.

"There is obviously more attention to nuclear safety," said Hamad Al Kaabi, the UAE's permanent representative to the IAEA. "You see some countries that are choosing not to pursue nuclear power but these are special cases … I don't think there are doubts about the potential contribution of nuclear energy in the global energy mix."

ayee@thenational.ae