The United Nations atomic energy agency today pledged to play a central role in restoring public faith in nuclear power after this year’s disaster at Japan’s Fukushima plant, which is projected to slow the growth in the use of such electricity generating reactors.
At the same time, UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Yukiya Amano reiterated previous concerns about possible Iranian activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile, and the reported construction of a new uranium enrichment facility and light water reactor in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).
“It will take rapid and visible improvements in nuclear safety, not just good intentions, to restore public confidence in nuclear power,” he told the IAEA Board of Governors in Vienna in a regular update on worldwide nuclear issues that devoted significant attention to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station disaster. “The agency will play its central part with vigour.”
A tsunami on 11 March knocked out water cooling systems at the station, contaminating air, water, plants and animals with radioactive plumes dozens of kilometres from the site, and threatening a total meltdown of the fuel rods in the worst civilian nuclear crisis since the deadly Chernobyl power plant explosion in the then Soviet Union 25 years ago.
“In the aftermath of Fukushima Daiichi, the most important thing is to ensure transparency, build confidence, and meet the high expectations of the public. But it is actions, not words that count,” Mr. Amano said, stressing that a draft action plan the agency has prepared with input from Member States represents a significant step forward in strengthening nuclear safety.
“We must not lose our sense of urgency. I hope the draft action plan will be approved by the Board and endorsed by the General Conference next week. With this plan, we will move from the planning phase to the implementation phase.”
He pledged full IAEA support to Japan as it tackles the challenging work of decontamination and called for full transparency from Tokyo. In the wake of the accident, the IAEA now expects nuclear reactors worldwide to increase by about 90 by 2030 at the low end of its projection, or by around 350 at the high end, compared to the current total of 432 reactors.
“This represents continuous and significant growth in the use of nuclear power, but at a slower growth rate than in our previous projections,” Mr. Amano said, noting that China and India will remain the main centres of expansion with their nuclear power capacities by 2030 expected to be as projected before the accident, after a temporary period of slower growth.
The projected slowdown in global growth reflects an accelerated phase-out of nuclear power in Germany, some immediate shutdowns and a Government review of the planned expansion in Japan, and temporary delays in expansion in several other countries.
“The factors that contributed to increasing interest in nuclear power before the Fukushima Daiichi accident have not changed: increasing global demand for energy, as well as concerns about climate change, dwindling reserves of oil and gas and uncertainty of supply of fossil fuels,” Mr. Amano said.
As in many previous reports, Mr. Amano noted that Iran is still not providing the cooperation needed to conclude that its nuclear programme is purely for peaceful activities. Iran has repeatedly stated that its programme is for providing electric energy, but many other countries contend that it is seeking to develop nuclear weapons and the Security Council has imposed several rounds of sanctions.
“The agency is increasingly concerned about the possible existence in Iran of past or current undisclosed nuclear related activities involving military related organizations, including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile, about which the agency continues to receive new information,” Mr. Amano said.
He noted that since the last Board meeting, Iran has installed centrifuges in Fordow with the stated objective of producing uranium enriched up to 20 per cent in further contravention of Security Council and Board of Governors resolutions.
Iran’s nuclear programme has been of international concern since the discovery in 2003 that it had concealed its nuclear activities for 18 years in breach of its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
On the DPRK, Mr. Amano said knowledge of the current status of its nuclear programme is limited because the agency not been able to implement safeguards measures since April 2009.
“That nuclear programme is a matter of serious concern and reports about the construction of a new uranium enrichment facility and a light water reactor in the DPRK are deeply troubling,” he added, calling on the country to fully comply with resolutions of the Security Council, which has imposed sanctions, as well as with the NPT, and to cooperate fully with the IAEA.
Turning to Syria, he said Damascus had indicated its readiness to fully cooperate with the IAEA to resolve issues related to the Dair Alzour site after the Board adopted a resolution in June finding it in non-compliance with its obligations under its safeguards agreement. The IAEA has concluded that it is very likely that the Dair Alzour building, which Israel destroyed in 2007, was a nuclear reactor that should have been declared to the agency.
Mr. Amano also announced that an initial forum on turning the Middle East into a nuclear-weapon-free zone, as requested by the IAEA’s General Conference 11 years ago, would be held in Vienna on 21-22 November.
Noting that yesterday was yesterday was the 10th anniversary of the devastating 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States, Mr. Amano stressed the urgent need for all States to prevent nuclear and other radioactive material and associated facilities from falling into the hands of those planning malicious acts.