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France, U.S. Reject International Nuclear-Safety Oversight

Regulators from the U.S. and France rejected calls to make peer reviews of nuclear safety inspections mandatory and give an international body oversight of atomic power plants.

At the same time nuclear watchdogs need more independence to ensure they’re free from political interference, the officials said today at a press conference in Paris, where regulators from about 37 countries met for the first time since the Fukushima atomic plant disaster.

Japan said yesterday it will separate its atomic regulator from the ministry charged with promoting nuclear energy as part of a “fundamental revision” of safety after meltdowns triggered by a March 11 earthquake and tsunami. European Union countries have agreed to carry out so-called stress tests on reactors since the accident.

The scale of the Fukushima disaster was “a shock” and signified a “collective failure,” said Andre-Claude Lacoste, the head of the Autorite de Surete Nucleaire, the watchdog in France, where reactors supply three-quarters of power needs.

Lacoste headed a peer review of Japan’s nuclear regulatory system in 2007, which found it to be “complex,” he said.

“For the moment in most big countries the regulatory system is working well,” he said.

Independence is a “vital element” both “in law and in fact,” said Mike Weightman, the U.K.’s chief inspector of nuclear installations.

Group of Eight leaders meeting in Deauville, France, last month agreed to consider tougher standards for building and operating nuclear power plants in areas that may be prone to events like earthquakes and called for an “effective peer review mechanism” of safety.

Making peer reviews mandatory would be a “very difficult endeavor,” said Gregory Jaczko, chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

“The fundamental focus for regulation has to come from domestic regulators,” he said. “The responsibility will always remain a domestic national responsibility.”

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