JAPAN | Closed-door IAEA talks on Fukushima hit

Posted on June 20, 2011


JAPAN | JAPAN TIMES |  Tuesday, June 21, 2011

VIENNA — The United Nations nuclear agency’s decision to hold talks about the Fukushima disaster behind closed doors this week ignores the blatant need for greater transparency, said a former official in the U.K. atomic industry.

“People deserve openness from the industry and its regulators,” Malcolm Grimston, a former information officer at the U.K.’s Atomic Energy Authority who is a London-based policy adviser at Chatham House, said in a June 17 interview. “It is blindingly obvious that greater transparency is needed.”

The crisis, which involved three reactor meltdowns, has been dogged by complaints that Tokyo Electric Power Co. and safety watchdogs haven’t been transparent enough. The International Atomic Energy Agency’s decision to shield the inquiry in Vienna from public view may backfire, analysts and scientists said.

The handpicked participants include scientists, diplomats and people from the industry who will have a chance to question Japanese authorities about what went wrong in the worst nuclear disaster in 25 years. Journalists are excluded.

IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano called the ministerial meeting to learn lessons from the March 11 Fukushima accident and plot strategies to improve nuclear safety. While the agency, which operates under the slogan “Atoms for Peace,” will give public access to delegates’ opening statements, it’s locking down panel discussions on Tepco’s handling of the accident and how nuclear safety can be improved after Fukushima.

Tepco has been criticized for a slow response to the accident and for publishing erroneous radiation data, while the government-run Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency has been blamed for not ensuring the utility heeded warnings that a tsunami could overwhelm the plant’s defenses.

“This meeting should have been set up to establish a technical baseline assuring that the agency will have all the facts it needs in the next six months for an independent assessment,” said Mark Hibbs, a senior nuclear analyst at the Carnegie Endowment in Berlin, in a June 17 telephone interview.

That probably won’t happen as ministers attending the sessions get bogged down in “expressing generalities,” he said.

The Fukushima meetings will be closed “because of the highly detailed and technical nature of the drafting work,” IAEA spokeswoman Gill Tudor said in a June 17 response to emailed questions. Summaries of the sessions will be made public, she said.

Bloomberg News has filed a Freedom of Information Act request to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission seeking greater access to meetings, where decisions on nuclear safety are made.

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