VIENNA (Reuters) - Steps to boost atomic safety after Japan's Fukushima accident must be "cost-effective," an industry body said on Tuesday, a day after the UN nuclear chief suggested power firms could help pay for expanded safety checks.
John Ritch, director general of the World Nuclear Association, said the industry had been struggling in the last decade to limit capital costs while building a new generation of reactors.
"In this context, it is crucially important that regulatory actions taken in response to Fukushima have demonstrable benefit arising from any increased costs," he told a major international safety conference, according to a copy of his speech.
"Focus solely on cost-effective measures," he said.
The head of the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency opened the week-long meeting on Monday by calling for countries to carry out risk assessments on all their reactors within 18 months, to make sure they could withstand extreme natural events of the kind that crippled Fukushima.
Yukiya Amano also proposed strengthened international safety checks, or peer reviews, on reactors worldwide organized by the U.N. body. The plan may meet resistance from those who want to keep safety an issue strictly for national authorities.
Amano stressed the difficulties in raising funding for needed safety measures from cash-strapped governments and that alternative ways of financing may be needed.
Asked whether he wanted power companies to pay for peer reviews carried out by the agency, he said: "Power companies, associations, industries or other bodies. I will at least explore all the possibilities."
Ritch said the "economies" of nuclear power were crucial for its future. "It is well known that, compared to other major power technologies, nuclear is expensive to build and cheap to operate."
Safety checks known as "stress tests" -- promoted in Europe and elsewhere as a way to make sure reactors can cope with various threats -- were a potentially constructive step toward harmonizing international standards for power plant design.
"We must aim to ensure that, in practice, the outcome of these stress tests is genuinely cost-effective safety gain," Ritch added.
(Reporting by Fredrik Dahl; editing by Keiron Henderson)