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Japan Disaster Haunts as Energy Ministers Discuss Nuclear Future

Wednesday, 8 Jun 2011 | 5:06 AM ET

Nuclear safety watchdogs and G20 energy ministers gathering in Paris on Tuesday and Wednesday to work on reinforcing nuclear safety around the globe in the wake of the Japanese nuclear disaster at Fukushima last March were keen to stress nuclear energy is still a viable source of alternative energy.

Employees of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant walk outside of the destroyed 4th block of the plant on February 24, 2011 ahead of the 25th anniversary of the meltdown of reactor number four due to be marked on April 26, 2011. Ukraine said early this year it will lift restrictions on tourism around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, formally opening the scene of the world's worst nuclear accident to visitors. Chernobyl's number-four reactor, in what was then the Soviet Union and now Ukraine, expl
Sergei Supinsky | AFP | Getty Images
Employees of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant walk outside of the destroyed 4th block of the plant on February 24, 2011 ahead of the 25th anniversary of the meltdown of reactor number four due to be marked on April 26, 2011. Ukraine said early this year it will lift restrictions on tourism around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, formally opening the scene of the world's worst nuclear accident to visitors. Chernobyl's number-four reactor, in what was then the Soviet Union and now Ukraine, expl

The meeting, which comes just one week after Germany announced its exit from nuclear power by 2022, saw a majority of member states agree on the need to organize nuclear safety stress tests and to increase the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) role on the design of regulations, Reuters reported.

Luis Echavarri, director general of the NEA told CNBC that what happened in Fukushima was very different from what happened in Chernobyl 25 years ago. While the Chernobyl accident was the results of a problem at the plant, Fukushima was mainly due to safety standards which weren't appropriate to the location.

“It is very important that when these standards are being implemented in a particular country, the local conditions are taken into account,” Echavarri said. “Of course, earthquakes, tsunamis, floods and all that differ completely from site to site. And in the case of Japan, even though they had a big experience unfortunately with earthquakes and tsunamis, they were not able to imagine that something of this magnitude could happen,” he added.

As long as they comply with local rules and international standards, emerging economies — especially Asian ones — will be able to benefit from what is, to them, a very attractive source of energy, Echavarri said.

“It is very important first to reinforce and to improve the international safety standards, which are rendered by the IAEA in Vienna,” he said. “This is a clear reference for all the countries.”

G20 to Discuss Nuclear Safety
"The international community is very concerned that this kind of (nuclear) accident can happen and these meetings are the first step in order to enforce the safety regime around the world," Luis Echavarri, director general of OECD's Nuclear Energy Agency, told CNBC Tuesday.

While the IAEA regulations are cornerstones for nuclear safety, the Fukushima tragedy has proven that countries need to adapt the rules to their very own particular situations.

“They have to be very careful in the future of the selection of the sites, and the conditions, the local conditions of the plan, are in such a way that they don’t have the possibility of this accident,” Echavarri said.

Opposition to nuclear energy has increased since the nuclear disaster in Japan, culminating in German Chancellor Angela Merkel's announcement the country will exit nuclear power by 2022.

“We’ll have to respect a decision that democracies take,” Echavarri said, “but I don’t think this is a model for other countries in Europe,” he added, He said he was glad countries such as France, or the UK were going to learn from Fukushima.

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