VIENNA (Reuters) - Global action to protect the nuclear industry against possible terrorist attacks is urgently needed, a leading expert said, as are safety steps to prevent any repeat of Japan's Fukushima accident.
"Both al Qaeda and Chechen terrorist groups have repeatedly considered sabotaging nuclear reactors -- and Fukushima provided a compelling example of the scale of terror such an attack might cause," Matthew Bunn of Harvard University said.
Some countries had "extraordinarily weak security measures in place," he said in an Internet blog posted this week, without naming them.
"The nuclear industry in many countries is much less prepared to cope with security incidents than with accidents," wrote Bunn, an associate professor at Harvard Kennedy School who specializes in nuclear issues.
Steps to protect against both sabotage of nuclear facilities and theft of nuclear weapons or the materials to make them were "particularly urgent."
Bunn was reacting to new proposals by the head of the U.N. nuclear agency aimed at improving international nuclear safety following Japan's crisis which was caused by a massive earthquake and huge tsunami on March 11. Three reactors at the Fukushima complex went into meltdown when power and cooling functions failed, causing radiation to leak and forcing the evacuation of some 80,000 people.
"The chance that the next big radioactive release will happen because someone wanted to make it happen may well be bigger than the chance that it will happen purely by accident," Bunn said.
Yukiya Amano, director general of the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), opened a major safety meeting in Vienna on Monday by calling for international, random safety checks on nuclear reactors around the world.
Amano also said countries should assess risks on all their reactors within 18 months to make sure they could withstand extreme natural events of the kind that crippled Fukushima.
His proposals may meet resistance from those which want safety to remain a strictly national issue. The week-long meeting of the IAEA's 151 member states ends on Friday.
Bunn said Amano's five-point plan was sensible but that he had missed a crucial point: "Disasters like Fukushima can be caused not only be accident but by terrorist action."
(Reporting by Fredrik Dahl; editing by Richard Meares)