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Head of U.N.'s atomic energy agency says 'lessons will need to be learned'

Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, says officials around the world need to reassess the international nuclear framework. He says 'arrangements for putting international nuclear experts in touch with each other quickly during a crisis need to be improved.'

March 21, 2011|By Victoria Kim, Los Angeles Times

The head of the U.N.'s atomic agency said Monday that the brewing crisis at Japan's reactors in the wake of the country's devastating earthquake and tsunami should lead officials around the world to reassess the international nuclear framework.

"The agency's role in nuclear safety may need to be reexamined, along with the role of our safety standards," Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said in a briefing to the agency's governing board. "It is already clear that arrangements for putting international nuclear experts in touch with each other quickly during a crisis need to be improved."

Amano flew to Japan last Thursday and met with Prime Minister Naoto Kan as well as with senior officials from the Tokyo Electric Power Company, which owns the affected plant.

Amano said that while stabilizing the damaged reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant is the priority, "lessons will need to be learned and the IAEA is where that discussion should take place," according to a transcript of the remarks posted on the agency's website. He said some nations have begun reviewing their nuclear plans in light of the situation in Japan.

But he said nuclear power remained viable as a clean and stable energy source despite the increased concern worldwide over its safety. Amano also defended his organization's reaction to the crisis, saying there were "widespread misconceptions" in the media about the IAEA's role in maintaining nuclear safety.

"I explained that we are not a 'nuclear safety watchdog' and that responsibility for nuclear safety lies with our member states," he said.

The director general said the agency had a "radiation monitoring team" in Japan sending measurements of radiation levels back to Vienna.

Amano's remarks came as Kan expressed guarded optimism despite continued challenges to containment efforts at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

"While we haven't reached the point where we can say we've gotten out of this crisis situation, it can be said that we can see the light at the end of the tunnel," Kan said at a meeting with his crisis team in Tokyo, Bloomberg reported.

victoria.kim@latimes.com

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