NYT-PARIS by MATTHEW SALTMARSH — Emergency workers have made “positive developments” in attempts to tackle the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, but the situation in Japan has highlighted the shortcomings of international coordination of such disasters, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency said Monday.
“The crisis has still not been resolved and the situation at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant remains very serious,” the director general, Yukiya Amano, told an emergency board meeting of the agency in Vienna. He noted that “high levels” of radiation contamination had been measured around the plant.
But he added, “We are starting to see some positive developments.” He cited in particular Sunday’s restoration of electrical power to the second unit at the power station and a reduction in pressure levels in containment vessels in the plant’s third unit.
Mr. Amano, a Japanese citizen, just ended an inspection visit to Japan, during which he called on government officials to disclose more information on the state of the plant and pledged agency assistance for the authorities, especially in monitoring. “I have no doubt that this crisis will be effectively overcome,” he said.
The grave situation at the power plant shows that the international emergency response framework needs to be “reassessed,” he said.
“It was designed largely in the wake of the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, before the information revolution,” he said at the meeting. “It reflects the realities of the 1980s, not of the 21st century.”
Such an examination should involve a thorough review of the accident to improve safeguards for all producers of nuclear power. The first opportunity to consider the lessons learned would come next month at a meeting of the countries that adhere to the Convention on Nuclear Safety, he said.
“The agency’s role in nuclear safety may need to be re-examined, along with the role of our safety standards,” Mr. Amano said. “It is already clear that arrangements for putting international nuclear experts in touch with each other quickly during a crisis need to be improved.”
The crisis, which has grown since the earthquake and tsunami on March 11 crippled the plant, has been marked by often contradictory news reports and updates from social media sites about the actual levels of danger and the amount of radiation that has leaked from the site in northeastern Japan.
While it is the responsibility of the agency is to provide information to the world as quickly as possible, “doing this under the current arrangements inevitably takes time and has limitations,” Mr. Amano said.
The agency’s governing board has 35 members. The agency was established in 1957 under the United Nations umbrella, and its secretariat now employs 2,200 professional and support staff. Its mission includes enhancing safety, security and enacting verification in the sector as well as supporting research and technological advances.
Mr. Amano’s statement seemed more like a bow to Japanese sensitivities than a technical assessment. From the start of the crisis, the agency has struggled to get timely information from Japan about its failing reactors and has been criticized for technical misstatements.
Mr. Amano’s trip to Japan was meant to heal the communications rift, and his public comments Monday to a special meeting of the agency’s board read like an expression of condolence and praise for Japanese heroism.
However, the technical presentations to the board, which were private, went beyond diplomacy to give a detailed evaluation of the reactor crisis.
Mr. Amano emphasized that the agency was not a “nuclear safety watchdog” and that responsibility for nuclear safety lay with individual governments.
“The I.A.E.A. acts as a hub for international cooperation, helping to establish safety standards and providing expert advice on best practice,” he said in the speech. “But in contrast to the agency’s role in nuclear nonproliferation, nuclear safety measures are applied voluntarily by each individual country and our role is supportive.”
The agency has a senior official in Japan coordinating its assistance and has liaison officers working with the authorities. It also has a radiation-monitoring team in the country that has started sending measurements to Vienna, including from locations close to the Fukushima site. More specialists are on the way to strengthen the team.
Mr. Amano said that despite recent events, nuclear power would remain an “important and viable option for many countries as a stable and clean source of energy.”
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