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Energy Ministers Agree on Tougher Nuclear Safety Tests

Vice Minister for International Affairs of the Ministry of Economics, Trade and Industry of Japan Hideichi Okada (L) is flanked by France's Environment and Transport minister, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, as he speaks about nuclear energy safety during a p

Government ministers and nuclear experts from the Group of Eight and other nations have called for tougher safety measures at nuclear reactors. At the conclusion of a two-day meeting in Paris, they also are stressing the importance of independent regulatory bodies after the nuclear disaster in Japan.

Ministers and officials from nearly 30 countries producing nuclear energy are calling for more stringent safety tests at nuclear power plants. Their recommendation will be discussed later this month at a key nuclear safety meeting in Vienna.

France, which hosted the Paris meeting - and is a leading producer of nuclear power - has proposed global nuclear safety standards following the March accident at Japan's Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Experts like Gregory Jaczko, head of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, say the importance of having an independent nuclear regulatory authority also is critical.

"I think a strong principle is having a strong domestic regulator and that regulator needs to be independent in all aspects," he said.

Japan has faced criticism over its nuclear energy policies following Fukushima. In a report Tuesday to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Japanese government acknowledged it had been unprepared for a Fukushima-type disaster, and said radiation leakage was worse than it previously thought. Japan also recognized the need for greater regulatory independence.

Still, Britain's chief nuclear inspector, Mike Weightman, praised the way officials at Fukushima handled the disaster in its immediate aftermath.

"They did some remarkable things there that helped to secure the safety to the level that it did," he said. "And it was in extremely difficult circumstances. So I would be surprised if others could do better in such circumstances."

The Fukushima accident has intensified the debate about the viability of nuclear power, with critics arguing that the risks of an accident outweigh any benefits. The German government announced last month it would close all its nuclear plants by 2022.