As the International Atomic Energy Agency holds its first major international nuclear safety meeting following the crisis at Fukushima, director general Yukiya Amano has called for more to be done to strengthen nuclear power plant safety.
The fifth review meeting of parties to the Convention on Nuclear Safety (CNS) had already been scheduled to take place in Vienna starting on 4 April. Recent events in Japan have added an extra dimension to what would more routinely have been a meeting where parties to the convention submit reports on the implementation of their nuclear safety obligations for peer review. Now, the meeting has become the first formal opportunity for parties to the convention to share thoughts on the events in Japan and the lessons to be learned.
"It is clear that more
needs to be done to
strengthen the safety of
nuclear power plants so
that the risk of a future
accident is significantly
Director general, IAEA
In his opening comments, Amano said that events at Fukushima Daiichi had enormous implications for nuclear power. "We cannot take a 'business as usual' approach," he cautioned. "It is clear that more needs to be done to strengthen the safety of nuclear power plants so that the risk of a future accident is significantly reduced," he said.
The IAEA has called a ministerial conference on nuclear safety in June. That meeting will consider policy and technical issues, including improving the protection of nuclear power plants against multiple hazards, preparedness for prolonged power blackouts, enhancing emergency power supply and protecting spent fuel under accident conditions. It will also address issues of effective regulatory oversight, emergency preparedness and response, and general accident management as well as the future status of IAEA safety standards and the agency's role in nuclear safety and security.
However, Amano noted, Fukushima had not changed the basic drivers behind interest in nuclear power: rising global energy demand as well as concerns about climate change, volatile fossil fuel prices and energy security. "Nuclear power has contributed to expanding the supply of energy and has also reduced greenhouse gas and other emissions," he said.
A side meeting about the events in Japan and the initial response from safety regulators around the world included presentations by specialists from Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), and representatives from USA and European nuclear regulatory bodies.
Triple statement on current safety
In a press conference following the event, US Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman Gregory Jaczko, Western European Nuclear Regulators' Association (WENRA) chairman Jukka Laaksonen and European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group (NSREG) chairman Andrej Stritar all offered reassurances about the safety of the operating nuclear plants in their countries to current standards. Referring to recently announced European plans for so-called stress tests to be carried out at all nuclear reactors, Stritar commented: "The question with stress tests is not are the plants safe, but how do we make them safer?"
The Convention on Nuclear Safety, which entered into force on 24 October 1996, aims to legally commit participating states operating land-based nuclear power plants to maintain a high level of safety by setting international benchmarks. It is an incentive instrument: it does not compel parties to adhere to certain safety standards, but is instead based on their common interest to achieve higher levels of safety. It has over 70 signatories, including all countries which have operating nuclear power plants.
Researched and written
by World Nuclear News