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UN meeting on atomic energy urges stronger, effective nuclear safety standards

UN meeting on atomic energy urges stronger, effective nuclear safety standards

IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano addresses the Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Safety
A conference held by the United Nations atomic energy agency today called for stronger national and international measures to ensure the highest and most effective levels of nuclear safety in the wake of the accident at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi power plant three months ago.

Safety standards should be continuously reviewed, strengthened and implemented as broadly and effectively as possible, according to a declaration by the Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Safety of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) meeting in Geneva.

Delegates at the conference stressed the need to receive from Japan and the IAEA a “comprehensive and fully transparent assessment” of the Fukushima Daiichi accident to enable the international community to act on lessons learned, including a review of IAEA safety standards, particularly those related to multiple severe hazards.

They encouraged States with nuclear power plants to “conduct, as a response to the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, comprehensive risk and safety assessments of their nuclear power plants in a transparent manner.”

The nuclear industry has the responsibility to implement nuclear safety measures and to contribute to international efforts to enhance safety through transparency, the delegates added.

They emphasized “the need to improve national, regional and international emergency preparedness and response to nuclear accidents, including through the possible creation of rapid reaction capacity and the development of training in crisis management at the regional and international levels.”

The ministerial conference called for a strengthened role of the IAEA in emergency preparedness and response through promoting and expanding existing IAEA response and assistance capabilities, and underlined the need for States with nuclear power programmes, as well as the IAEA, to promote capacity-building, including education and training for regulators and operators.

Earlier, the IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano outlined measures he said could be quickly implemented to improve nuclear safety globally.

He told reporters that the first measure would be to strengthen IAEA safety standards and to ensure that they are universally applied, and recommended a systematic review of the safety of all nuclear plants, saying the assessments should be conducted nationally by Member States with an additional review by the IAEA.

National regulatory bodies must be genuinely independent, adequately funded and staffed by well-trained people, Mr. Amano said. He also stressed the need to strengthen global emergency preparedness and response systems, and to expand the IAEA information-sharing role during crises to include providing analysis and possible scenarios.

“All these are practical measures which will not require lengthy negotiations or amendments to safety conventions,” said Mr. Amano. “The coming months will be crucial for taking immediate remedial measures and to lay a solid ground for the future activities with the aim of strengthening nuclear safety.”

He described that Fukushima Daiichi crisis as a “terrible accident,” but added that he was confident that the right lessons will be learned, and that nuclear power plants globally will be made much safer as a result. “The IAEA will ply a central role in making that happen,” he added.

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power sustained major damage during the massive earthquake and ensuing tsunami that struck Japan on 11 March. Significant levels of radiation continued to leak from the damaged facility for weeks following the tsunami.

In his message to the conference, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said lessons learned in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi incident will inform decisions on nuclear safety in the future.

“The future of nuclear energy is critically dependent upon the maintenance of the highest safety standards,” Mr. Ban said in the message, delivered on his behalf by Sergio Duarte, the UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs.

“This is why nuclear safety is widely viewed as a global public good; its success serves the interests of people everywhere, but its failure can lead to disasters that respect no national boundaries,” he said.

The Secretary-General noted that political momentum is growing for additional steps to enhance nuclear safety, including the measures considered recently at the Group of 8 (G8) Summit, the Ministerial Seminar on Nuclear Safety hosted by France, and the Third Session of the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction.

“A new page of history is about to be turned in our relationship with nuclear energy. The challenge of nuclear safety merits our utmost ingenuity and will,” said Mr. Ban. “When it comes to nuclear safety, nations must remain united.”