Regulators and plant operators must strive for continuous improvement of nuclear safety in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident, nuclear regulatory authorities from around the world have agreed.
Regulators have been meeting in Paris to discuss insights gained from the accident at the Japanese power plant and to decide on appropriate international follow-up actions. The meeting, held under the auspices of the NEA Committee on Nuclear Regulatory Activities (CNRA) and titled Forum on the Fukushima Accident: Insights and Approaches, was attended by regulators from G8, OECD Nuclear Energy Agency member countries and associated countries including Brazil, India, Romania, South Africa and Ukraine. It was preceded by a ministerial seminar on nuclear safety attended by governments from 33 countries, building upon the conclusions of the 27 May G8 meeting in Deauville.
Among the priorities and recommendations identified by the regulators, several key findings were highlighted. Firstly, nuclear safety authorities remained committed to seek ways to secure the highest levels of safety through continuous improvement, using lessons learned from Fukushima to make operating reactors even safer. Many significant in-depth reviews and analyses of nuclear power plant safety had already been launched following on from the accident, and the forum participants urged all nuclear regulatory authorities to carry out similar exercises as soon as possible.
Priority areas for the advancement of knowledge for plant designs and post-accident situations were identified. These include extreme natural events and resilience to external shocks, combined risks, plant design and the ability of safety systems to withstand severe accidents, emergency response and management capabilities, crisis communication, and site recovery plans and their implementation.
The regulatory authorities undertook to continue to increase their co-operation through the CNRA to improve the continuous release of reliable information to the public and governmental institutions, both nationally and internationally. They also recognised the need to look into the adequacy of tools used to communicate with the public on accident severity, including the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES) developed by the IAEA and OECD to communicate and standardise the reporting of nuclear incidents or accidents to the public. Meanwhile, the importance of early response to the management of accident situations was also highlighted.
The regulators recognised that, political imperatives to push for nuclear safety notwithstanding, the main actors in securing nuclear safety remained the licensed plant operators. The commitments of the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) and its members to increase nuclear safety through enhanced peer reviews, transparency and international co-operation was particularly important in this regard.
The findings from the forum will feed into the IAEA ministerial conference, to be held at the end of June.
In a press conference, the three co-chairs of the meeting, NRC chairman Gregory Jaczko, head UK safety regulator Mike Weightman, and André-Claude Lacoste, head of French nuclear safety authority ASN, were joined by NEA director-general Luis Echavarri. All were in agreement that nuclear regulators must work to ensure they remained truly independent from both political pressure and from nuclear power plant operators. To this end, the Japanese government's decision to make its nuclear regulator more independent by separating the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), which promotes the use of nuclear energy, was praised.
In answer to questions, all three of the regulators praised the crisis management efforts made in Japan. "I would be surprised if others could do better in the circumstances," said Weightman, referring to the extreme conditions surrounding the accident.
Researched and written
by World Nuclear News