Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Fukushima: UN atomic agency completes review of Japan’s response to nuclear disaster

The United Nations atomic energy agency today completed its assessment of Japan’s response to nuclear contamination in areas around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant that was damaged during the massive earthquake and tsunami that struck the country in March.

The report by a team of experts sent by the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) highlighted nine areas of progress and offers advice on issues where the mission felt that current practices could be improved.

“A lot of good work, done at all levels, is ongoing in Japan in the area of environmental remediation,” said Juan Carlos Lentijo, the leader of the IAEA team and General Director for Radiation Protection at Spain’s nuclear regulatory authority.

“In the early phases of the Fukushima Daiichi accident, a very cautious approach was adopted by the Japanese authorities in terms of dealing with the handling of residue materials. It is considered right to do so.

“However, at this point in time, we see that there is room to take a more balanced approach, focusing on the real priority areas, classifying residue materials and adopting appropriate remediation measures on the basis of the results of safety assessments for each specific situation.”

The team’s advice to the Japanese authorities covers improvements in strategy, plans and specific remediation techniques, taking into account both international standards and experience from remediation programmes in other countries.

Some of the report’s other highlights include the IAEA mission’s appreciation of the fact that Japan acted quickly and allocated the necessary legal, economic and technological resources to develop an efficient remediation programme to bring relief to the people affected by the disaster. Priority was given to children and areas that they frequent, the report notes.

“The team appreciates the strong commitment to remediation demonstrated at the Fukushima prefecture and at local levels. The team benefited from visiting school sites, from which the contamination had been removed to a large extent by volunteers, mostly parents of the pupils,” the experts note in their report.

It acknowledged the “impressive” monitoring and mapping effort by the Japanese authorities as a good basis for a successful remediation programme.

The IAEA mission, which visited Japan last month, comprised 12 international and IAEA experts from several countries and visited numerous locations in Fukushima prefecture.

In a related development, IAEA nuclear and radiation safety experts have concluded an eight-day mission to review Australia’s Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA).

The review team found ARPANSA had made significant progress towards improving its regulatory activities, with most issues identified during the 2007 report having been effectively addressed.