Japan is asking the UN nuclear agency to set up a permanent office in Fukushima to monitor its efforts to contain the world’s worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl, officials said yesterday.
The news came as an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) team of experts began examining Japan’s safety checks on idled nuclear reactors.
Tokyo wants an international seal of approval for the energy-hungry country’s nuclear industry to bolster its faltering efforts at reassuring the public it is safe to resume atomic operations.
The vast majority of Japan’s 54 commercial nuclear reactors remain offline after popular opposition prevented them being restarted in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear crisis.
The disaster, triggered by the March earthquake and tsunami, contaminated the environment and forced tens of thousands of residents around the Fukushima nuclear site, in northeast Japan, to evacuate their homes. Many still do not know if or when they will be able to return.
Utility companies say Japan will experience severe power shortages if nuclear electricity production is not restarted.
“We are making contacts with the International Atomic Energy Agency to see what’s possible after we received requests from Fukushima that it hoped IAEA will have a permanent presence in the area,” a Japanese diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba, whose parliamentary constituency is in Fukushima, told residents on Sunday that he was making the push after requests from local leaders.
“We are calling on IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano for the international agency’s constant presence,” he said in a speech, according to Jiji Press.
The announcement coincided with a visit by a 10-member team of experts, led by James Lyons, IAEA director of nuclear installation safety.
At the request of the Japanese government, Lyons’ team will review Japan’s “stress test” before Tokyo approves nuclear reactor restarts.
The Vienna-based IAEA has offices around the world — including in Tokyo — but it does not normally have permanent bases to monitor commercial reactor sites.