Saturday, May 07, 2011

Nuclear Issues: Nuclear Agencies Set To Shape Post-Fukushima World

IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano | Credit: Wikimedia Commons By

Jaya Ramachandran

IDN-InDepth NewsReport

PARIS (IDN) - 'Safety First' is the watchword UN's atomic energy agency and OECD's nuclear arm are keen to spread as panic gives way to pondering over lessons that must be learned worldwide from the Fukushima disaster. The core purpose of 'atoms for peace', they say, is to make the benefits of nuclear science and technology available for peaceful, and not military, purposes. And, this remains valid.

"There are a number of lessons to be drawn from the accident in Fukushima, that apply to the design, construction, operation and maintenance of existing and future nuclear plants, but also apply to waste management or the backlash against nuclear power," says Angel Gurría, Secretary-General of the 34-nation OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development).

"We have an opportunity to learn from this tragic event and take it into account as we go forward," he said announcing the June 7-8 G20 meeting on nuclear energy issues during a joint press conference with Yukiya Amano, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and Luis Echávarri, Director-General of the OECD’s Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) on April 28, 2011.

He said the meeting, organised under the French presidency of G20 (Group of 20 major industrial and emerging economies), will contribute to a wider IAEA ministerial meeting that Amano has convened for June 20-24 at IAEA headquarters in Vienna.

Amano -- a Japanese national, who took over from Egypt's Mohamed ElBaradei in December 2009 -- was in Paris to brief the OECD Council and the NEA Steering Committee on continuing developments in Japan, as well as for wider discussions on moving forward multilateral cooperation on nuclear safety.

Amano praised existing OECD-NEA cooperation with IAEA on nuclear safety standards and power plant design, and said that "international organisations will play a critical role in establishing better nuclear power safeguards in the post-Fukushima world."

IAEA will present an initial assessment of the Fukushima accident and a preliminary review of international response to the crisis during the Vienna Ministerial Meeting on Nuclear Safety in Light of the Fukushima Accident, said a media release. "Participants will also renew discussions on nuclear safety, including a review of the International Nuclear Event Scale and other international standards."

Amano hit the nail on the head, when he pointed out that "public confidence in the safety of nuclear power plants has been deeply shaken throughout the world," adding: "We must therefore continue to work hard on improving the safety of nuclear power plants and ensuring transparency about the risks of radiation. Only in this way will we succeed in addressing the concerns that have been raised by Fukushima. More than ever before, our watchword must now be Safety First."

Echavarri -- also a member of the International Nuclear Safety Group (INSAG), which advises IAEA on nuclear safety approaches, policies and principles -- agreed that it was important to discuss safety standards, but said the NEA also favours strengthening the IAEA Convention on Nuclear Safety. "The safety standards are an important element, but what is also needed is an international mechanism for implementation and enforcement of safety requirements around the world," he said.


Amano is far from certain, what the long-term consequences of the Fukushima accident will be for the nuclear power sector. "... It has already had a negative impact on social acceptance of nuclear power and some countries have announced reviews of their plans in this field."

But he maintained that "the basic drivers behind the resurgence of interest in nuclear power which we have witnessed in recent years have not changed as a result of Fukushima Daiichi." He was referring to rising global energy demand as well as concerns about climate change, volatile fossil fuel prices and energy security.

He advised countries to frame their energy policies "in a broad context and with a long-term perspective in mind," and added, "Nuclear power will remain an important option for many countries, so it is essential that we continue to work on improving nuclear safety."

The IAEA plays an important role in areas such as nuclear safeguards, nuclear security and technical cooperation. But it membership overlaps with that of OECD's nuclear agency NEA. As a result, the work of the two organisations is "complementary in nuclear safety, nuclear energy and related fields."

Amano said the two organisations had worked "effectively" together in 2009-2010 to help alleviate a global shortage of the radioisotope Molybdenum-99, which had potentially life-threatening consequences for thousands of patients throughout the world.

Since the Fukushima accident, IAEA and NEA technical teams have held regular video conferences to share information. "I expect cooperation between the IAEA and the OECD/NEA in developing new generations of nuclear reactors with enhanced safety features to increase in the coming years," Amano told the OECD Council on April 28.

OECD Council is made up of one representative of each member country, and a representative of the European Commission.

"Sharing the experience of countries with advanced nuclear power programmes with those introducing nuclear energy for the first time will be another important area of collaboration for us," the IAEA chief added.


Many of the challenges which the IAEA faces today are very different from those envisaged by its founders more than 50 years ago: Instead of being preoccupied with "the risk of the most industrialised countries developing nuclear weapons", its concern is focused "on countries such as North Korea, which, contrary to its non-proliferation commitments, has developed nuclear weapons, or Iran, which is not fully implementing its comprehensive safeguards agreement with the agency and its other relevant obligations," explained Amano.

He added: "Today, it is not the risk of the most industrialised countries developing nuclear weapons that preoccupies the international community. Concern is focused instead on countries such as North Korea, which, contrary to its non-proliferation commitments, has developed nuclear weapons, or Iran, which is not fully implementing its comprehensive safeguards agreement with the Agency and its other relevant obligations.

"For decades, nuclear power generation was the preserve of developed countries. Today, dozens of developing countries are considering launching nuclear power programmes. The possibility of nuclear terrorism was simply not an issue in the 1950s. Today, it is high on the agenda of world leaders. Cancer was long considered a disease of the rich world, while today it is spreading to a frightening extent in the developing world."

The IAEA chief maintained that despite these changes, the core objective of 'Atoms for Peace' -- making the benefits of nuclear science and technology available for peaceful, but not military, purposes -- remains valid. His goal, he said, is to help member states to use nuclear techniques to meet the challenges they face in many areas in the 21st century.