(Reuters) – The United States looks set to succeed in watering down a proposal for tougher legal standards aimed at boosting global nuclear safety, according to senior diplomats.
Diplomatic wrangling will come to a head at a 77-nation meeting in Vienna next month that threatens to expose divisions over required safety standards and the cost of meeting them, four years after the Fukushima disaster in Japan.
Switzerland has put forward a proposal to amend the Convention on Nuclear Safety (CNS), arguing stricter standards could help avoid a repeat of Fukushima, where an earthquake and tsunami sparked triple nuclear meltdowns, forced more than 160,000 people to flee nearby towns and contaminated water, food and air.
“If the convention is already perfect, why did Fukushima happen?” said one senior diplomat involved in the matter.
But Russia and the United States have opposed such a change, the diplomats say.
A reform of the CNS would increase industry costs, as existing nuclear plants, especially older ones, would have to be refitted. The United Nations atomic watchdog says there are 439 nuclear power reactors currently in operation globally, with 69 under construction.
Mark Hibbs, proliferation expert at the Carnegie Endowment think-tank, said those in favor of the amendment argue their opponents are motivated by protecting the nuclear industry and electric utility companies.
Critics of the plan say the U.S. industry has already spent billions of dollars on improving nuclear safety since Fukushima, Hibbs added.
“I think the United States government is afraid of any principle that would even suggest that current reactors need to be retrofitted to meet modern standards,” said Edwin Lyman of the Washington-based Union of Concerned Scientists.