IAEA ministerial conference discusses international nuclear safety after Fukushima

Updated On: Jun 22, 2011

Members of the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA) met for a week-long ministerial conference to decide what changes should be made to international regulation of nuclear industries, among other things.

A key topic at the table was the regime of international inspection, where ministers discussed the prospects of countries releasing nuclear safety data to neighbouring countries, as well as opening their doors to IAEA inspectors for spot-checks.

The Ministerial Declaration issued on Monday talks of increasing cooperation between governments and regulators, and “underlines the benefits of independent international safety expert assessments.” However, little real progress was made in reconciling international safety measures with countries’ interests in sovereignty.

Yet the head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog warned that “business as usual” was not an option, saying that confidence in atomic energy had been deeply shaken by the Fukushima disaster.

Report & Analysis: No ‘business as usual’ as IAEA meets on nuclear safety [AFP, 20 June 2011]

Full Report: Declaration by the IAEA Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Safety in Vienna on 20 June 2011 [IAEA, 20 June 2011]

The nuclear meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi power station was also a hot topic of discussion, as industry leaders discussed nuclear safety policies in the wake of the biggest nuclear accident for 25 years.

The head of the IAEA opened the week-long meeting by calling for countries to carry out risk assessments on all their nuclear reactors within 18 months to ensure they could withstand extreme natural disasters such as that which crippled Fukushima.

John Ritch, director general of the World Nuclear Association, stressed that steps to boost safety must “focus solely on cost-effective measures,” and encouraged the use of “stress tests.”

Report: Atom industry body urges cost-effective safety [Reuters, 21 June 2011]

Singapore Minister for Foreign Affairs Masagos Zulkifli emphasised the importance of international, regional and national emergency preparedness and response capabilities.

“The IAEA should be in a position to provide objective technical assessment as the crisis unfolded and to advise countries in need,” he said. “This is particularly important for countries such as Singapore, which lack the expertise needed for a complete understanding of the technical information involving nuclear accidents.”

Full Statement: Statement by Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Masagos Zulkifli at the International Atomic Energy Agency Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Safety, 20 June 2011, Vienna, Austria [MFA, 20 June 2011]

Ministers also reviewed a report on the Fukushima accident, which revealed that the nuclear meltdown was much more rapid and severe than originally assumed. The report identified the 14-metre high tsunami as the crucial event that triggered the disaster sequence, prompting the experts to recommend that “plant layout be based on maintaining a ‘dry site concept’, where practicable.”

Analysts have criticised this clause, saying that such a recommendation “must be made practicable – non-negotiable, not merely optional.”

Report & Analysis: Nuclear reviews leave open questions [BBC, 21 June 2011]

Full Report: IAEA International Fact Finding Expert Mission of the Fukushima Dai-ichi NPP Accident Following the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami [IAEA, 2 June 2011]

Responding to criticism that cozy ties between government and industry were the reason for insufficient oversight at Fukushima, Japan’s minister of trade and industry said that the government hoped to separate its nuclear regulatory agency from the ministry as early as next year.

Report & Analysis: Japan plans to unlink nuclear agency from government [New York Times, 21 June 2011]

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