The Japanese reactor crisis poses a major challenge with enormous implications for nuclear power, the head of the U.N.'s atomic watchdog said Monday.
Yukiya Amano, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, also stressed that the global community cannot take a "business as usual approach." Lessons must to be learned from what happened at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant after it was hit by a massive tsunami and earthquake on March 11 and has been releasing radiation into the environment ever since, he said.
Amano spoke at the opening session of a meeting that has drawn representatives from dozens of countries to scrutinize safety at each other's power plants.
"I know you will agree with me that the crisis at Fukushima Dai-ichi has enormous implications for nuclear power and confronts all of us with a major challenge," Amano told delegates. "We cannot take a business as usual approach."
The worries of millions of people around the world about the safety of nuclear energy "must be taken seriously," Amano said, and called for transparency and "rigorous adherence to the most robust international safety standards."
"It is clear that more needs to be done to strengthen the safety of nuclear power plants so that the risk of a future accident is significantly reduced," he said.
In other comments, Amano said the IAEA would like to send an international expert mission to Japan as soon as possible to carry out an assessment of the accident.
Looking to the future, he added that arrangements for putting international nuclear experts in touch with each other quickly after incidents like these need to be improved.
"I am confident that valuable lessons will be learned from the Fukushima Dai-ichi accident, which will result in substantial improvements in nuclear operating safety, regulation and the overall safety culture," he said.
Amano's comments were seconded by Li Ganjie of the National Nuclear Safety Administration, who is the president of the meeting. The meeting runs through April 14 and began with a moment of silence for victims of the Japanese disaster.
"Needless to say, the Fukushima accident has left an impact on global nuclear power development and has become a major event in nuclear history," Li said through a translator. "It stands testimony to the notion that nuclear safety is the lifeline and key to nuclear power and nuclear safety knows no boundaries."
The gathering, hosted by the Vienna-based IAEA, centers on the Convention on Nuclear Safety that came into being in the wake of the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl accidents.
Adopted in 1994, it commits states party to it to submit reports on the safety of their civil nuclear facilities for review by their counterparts at gatherings held every three years. The idea is that questioning and peer pressure will keep countries on their toes. All countries with operating nuclear power plants are parties to the treaty.
A separate side meeting focused specifically on the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant is scheduled for Monday evening.