Meeting on nuclear power plant safety ends at UN atomic agency

Review meeting Chair Linda Keen

25 April 2005 – Nuclear officials from more than 50 countries have wrapped up a meeting at the Vienna headquarters of the United Nations atomic watchdog agency to share information and upgrade precautions in a bid to ensure the safety of nuclear power plants and prevent a repeat of a Chernobyl-style disaster.

The two-week peer review meeting on the Convention on Nuclear Safety was a success, the session’s President, Linda Keen, head of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, told a news briefing on Friday. She pointed out that with India’s ratification, all States with nuclear power plants are now participating.

Under the Convention, which entered into force in 1996 and of which the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is the depositary, parties meet every three years to “peer review” their national nuclear safety programmes. Countries submit reports covering, for example, the construction, operation and regulation of their civilian nuclear power plants.

Among issues discussed at this latest meeting, attended by 51 of the 56 contracting parties, was the possible role of the convention with regard to research reactors. Ms. Keen said the session decided to ask IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei to convene meetings with Member States to discuss how best to assure the effective application of the Code of Conduct on the Safety of Research Reactors.

The catalyst for the Convention was the 1986 Chernobyl accident, when global implications of nuclear safety were magnified and interest intensified in internationally binding safety standards.

Nearly 8.4 million people in Belarus, Ukraine and Russia were exposed to radiation when the Chernobyl plant in Ukraine blew up. Beyond the cancers and chronic health problems, especially among children, some 150,000 kilometres – an area half the size of Italy – were contaminated, while agricultural areas covering nearly 52,000 square kilometres, more than the size of Denmark, were ruined.

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