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(Bloomberg) -- A Swiss-led European nuclear-safety initiative opposed by the U.S. was quashed after diplomats issued a non-binding pledge instead of adopting more stringent international rules.
Diplomats from 77 countries unanimously adopted the Vienna Declaration on Nuclear Safety on Monday rather than call a vote on the more demanding treaty amendment proposed by the Switzerland. The declaration ends a 10-month campaign to mitigate against nuclear disasters like the one that struck Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi.
“Without the readiness of major nuclear-energy producing countries to support our initiative, the goal of improving nuclear safety worldwide wasn’t achieved,” said Hans Wanner, Switzerland’s top nuclear-safety official, in an online statement. “The resistance was mainly politically motivated.”
European attempts to export tighter nuclear-safety rules have been opposed by the U.S. and Russia. The European Union issued a directive in July forcing regulators to show how old reactors can be upgraded to mitigate against accidents. Imposing those same EU standards everywhere would have been divisive, according to U.S. and Russian officials who sought the compromise document.
“The declaration represents a political commitment to reinvigorate the principles of the convention itself,” U.S. envoy Eliot Kang said in prepared remarks at today’s meeting. “We are telling the world that we understand our responsibilities and are meeting them in a way that can inspire confidence in the future peaceful uses of nuclear energy and technology.”
While the declaration says that “reasonably practicable or achievable safety improvements are to be implemented in a timely manner,” it falls short of the original Swiss goal of requiring operators to implement back-up systems to contain radioactive contamination in the event of an accident.
The nuclear safety treaty was created two decades ago in response to the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown in Ukraine that led to more than 300,000 people being displaced from contaminated areas. European efforts to strengthen the convention began after the March 2011 Fukushima Daiichi meltdowns that caused 160,000 Japanese to flee.
“Many countries also feared massive additional costs that could have result from obligations to upgrade older existing plants,” Wanner said.
More than half of the world’s 438 reactors were built at least 30 years ago and are nearing the age when they’ll need special maintenance attention, according to International Atomic Energy Agency statistics. French nuclear utilities are spending about four times more on safety upgrades than their U.S. counterparts, according to some industry estimates.
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