March 15, 2011 — -- Two years before a powerful earthquake rocked Japan and threatened catastrophe for its nuclear facilities, U.S. officials slammed the senior Japanese safety director of the International Atomic Energy Agency as "a disappointment" in part due to Japan's nuclear safety practices, according to a leaked U.S. State Department document.
"[Tomihiro] 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 the document, posted on the website for British newspaper The Guardian. "This position requires a good manager and leader who is technically qualified in both safety and security."
Taniguchi was the executive director of Japan's Nuclear Power Engineering Corporation, a company that specifically dealt with nuclear plant security in the aftermath of earthquakes, prior to becoming the Deputy Director General for the IAEA's Department of Nuclear Safety and Security in 2001. Taniguchi stepped down after another Japanese official, Yukiya Amano, assumed control of the IAEA as Director General in September 2009.
Before he left, however, Taniguchi told a meeting of nuclear officials in 2008 that the international community should focus more on nuclear power safety and security, according to a separate leaked cable posted on the website WikiLeaks.
"We should avoid another Chernobyl or nuclear 9/11," Taniguchi said according to the document, referring to the infamous 1986 nuclear disaster in the Ukraine.
After Japan suffered one of its largest earthquakes in history March 11, one of the country's nuclear plants was so badly damaged it prompted fears of a disaster and invited comparisons to the Chernobyl incident.
Amano, now the sole representative from Japan on the senior IAEA management team, is scheduled to speak in April about the safety improvements made since that incident at an international conference called "Chernobyl, 25 Years On: Safety for the Future."
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