By Grayson Webb
(Source: Reuters) Director General Yukiya Amano of the International Atomic Energy Agency talks to the Media
Published Thursday March 17th, in Reuters by Tom Miles
BEIJING—Eighteen months before Japan’s radiation crisis, U.S. diplomats had lambasted the safety chief of the world’s atomic watchdog for incompetence, especially when it came to the nuclear power industry in his homeland, Japan.
Cables sent from the U.S. embassy in Vienna to Washington, which were obtained by WikiLeaks and reviewed by Reuters, singled out Tomihiro Taniuchi, until last year head of safety and security at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
“For the past 10 years, the department has suffered tremendously because of (deputy director general) Taniguchi’s weak management and leadership skills,” said one dispatch on Dec. 1, 2009.
“Taniguchi has been a weak manager and advocate, particularly with respect to confronting Japan’s own safety practices, and he is a particular disappointment to the United States for his unloved-step-child treatment of the Office of Nuclear Security,” said another, which was sent on July 7, 2009.
The IAEA does not comment on the contents of leaked cables.
The evidence of concern about the Japanese national surfaced as his country scrambled to avert a lethal spread of radiation from earthquake-damaged nuclear reactors north of Tokyo.
Japan’s crisis has brought scrutiny of its nuclear authorities and, in particular, the operator of the stricken reactors, which has a history of falsifying data at its plants.
Separate cables quoted a Japanese lawmaker as telling visiting U.S. officials in October 2008 that power companies in Japan were hiding nuclear safety problems and being given an easy ride on commitments to renewable energy by the government.
Taro Kono, a supporter of renewable energy who in 2009 bid unsuccessfully for leadership of his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), also said Japan had no solution for nuclear waste storage. He asked if there was anywhere appropriate to store waste given that Japan was the “land of volcanoes.”
Kono was not immediately available for comment.
TOKYO ELECTRIC HAS ROCKY PAST
The operator of the Fukushima Daiichi plant now at the centre of the crisis – the Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) – has had a rocky past in an industry plagued by scandal.
Five TEPCO executives resigned in 2002 over suspected falsification of nuclear plant safety records and five reactors were forced to stop operations.
In 2006, the government ordered TEPCO to check past data after it reported finding falsification of coolant water temperatures at its Fukushima Daiichi plant in 1985 and 1988, and that the tweaked data was used in mandatory inspections at the plant, which were completed in October 2005.
The risk of earthquakes and tsunamis was already well known before last Friday’s massive earthquake, but many of Japan’s nuclear power plants, including the now-crippled Fukushima complex, were built before the most modern safety standards.
An unnamed IAEA official told the G8 Nuclear Safety and Security Group in December 2008 that guidelines for seismic safety had only been revised three times in the past 35 years and that the IAEA was re-examining them, another WikiLeaks cable showed.
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