Regulators decide against convention change

11 February 2015

Seventy-two countries party to the Convention on Nuclear Safety declared their intention to continuously improve in that area, while a proscriptive proposal to amend the convention did not gain consensus.

Rafael Mariano Grossi (Dean Calma / IAEA) 250x167
Rafael Mariano Grossi, Argentina's ambassador to the IAEA, acted as president of the conference (Image: Dean Calma / IAEA)

The convention dates from 1994 when countries combined to agree common interest in maintaining high standards of safety at nuclear power facilities and create a framework for national regulators to exchange information and cooperate in their work.

Diplomats and regulators from some 72 of these countries met this week in Vienna to discuss a proposal by Switzerland to add certain language to the convention in reaction to the Fukushima accident of 2011. One fundamental paragraph in the convention says that nuclear power plants should be designed, built and operated with the objective of avoiding accidents and mitigating their effects should they occur. Although basic, this is important because it provides for a common approach for regulation across every signatory country. Switzerland wanted to add text specifying that safety standards for new plants should also apply to older plants. But placing this in the convention would have made it legally binding upon all states that ratified the change, and a consensus for that could not be reached. "Too many countries... would have been unable to ratify the amendment for domestic reasons," noted Hans Wanner, the head Swiss regulator.

Summarising the meeting, conference president Rafael Mariano Grossi of Argentina noted the international response that has already taken place after the Fukushima accident: "Operators themselves and national regulators reacted without delay introducing changes and checking areas of vulnerability."

Another idea from Switzerland would have prevented the construction of any 'Generation-II' reactor. Based on ambiguous terminology, that provision did not survive early discussions.

"Second, at the regional level... regulators and regional associations ensured that these initiatives would not be isolated from what was being done in nearby countries," and, continued Grossi, the convention itself and its provision for peer review "was immediately reviewed after the accident." These actions were "all very concrete, and all mutually reinforcing," he added.

Grossi suggested to the meeting that instead of formalising Switzerland's ideas, the countries make a Joint Declaration, which would not need ratification or be legally binding but would "be reflected in" all their subsequent actions under the CNS "in the spirit of continuous improvement".

Endorsing principles in line with some of Switzerland's main aims, the final Joint Declaration included that "comprehensive and systematic safety assessments are to be carried out periodically and regularly for existing installations throughout their lifetime in order to identify safety improvements... Reasonably practicable or achievable safety improvements are to be implemented in a timely manner."

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News