Japan Wants UN Atomic Agency in Fukushima

Tokyo wants an international seal of approval for the energy-hungry country's nuclear industry, but has failed to inspire confidence.

THE GIST

The government's nuclear disaster task force set up to manage the unfolding atomic catastrophe at Fukushima kept no records of its meetings.

The vast majority of Japan's 54 commercial nuclear reactors are still offline.

The UN International Atomic Energy Agency does not normally have permanent bases to monitor commercial reactor sites.

Japan is asking the UN's nuclear agency to set up a permanent office in Fukushima to monitor its efforts to contain the world's worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.

The International Atomic Energy Agency was "carefully considering" the request, said James Lyons, who is leading a team of IAEA experts reviewing Japan's safety tests for idled 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 are offline because popular opposition is preventing their being restarted in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

The disaster, triggered by the March 11 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 re-started.

"We are making contact 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 told AFP, under customary condition of anonymity.

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.at

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The announcement coincided with a visit by a 10-member team of IAEA experts led by Lyons, the agency's director of nuclear installation safety.

"That's a very important request that we received and it's something that is going to take careful consideration by the IAEA," Lyons told Japanese reporters. "That consideration is underway now."

At the request of the Japanese government, his team will review the methodology of Japan's "stress test" before Tokyo approves any nuclear reactor re-starts.

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.

Tokyo has struggled with public trust on the nuclear issue since the disaster.

It appeared to have suffered a further setback on Monday when it was revealed the body set up to manage the unfolding atomic catastrophe at Fukushima kept no records of its meetings.

The government's nuclear disaster task force, headed by then prime minister Naoto Kan and including all of his ministers, has no minutes of the meetings that approved the evacuation of people living near the crippled reactors.

The Cabinet Office, in charge of keeping all public records, said it has told the agency to study what it can do to create a written record of the decision-making processes.