On eve of Chernobyl visit, Ban outlines path to strengthening nuclear safety

The IAEA has about 245 inspectors who go on about 2,000 missions each year to verify over 1,100 nuclear facilities

19 April 2011 – The recent power plant accident in Japan, like the Chernobyl disaster 25 years ago, calls for “deep reflection” on the future of nuclear energy, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today, as he outlined a five-step plan to enhance nuclear safety.

“As we are painfully learning once again, nuclear accidents respect no borders,” Mr. Ban told the Summit on the Safe and Innovative Use of Nuclear Energy, held in Kiev, Ukraine.

“They pose direct threats to human health and the environment. They cause economic disruptions, affecting everything from agricultural production to trade and global services.”

Mr. Ban said that both the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine in 1986 and the accident at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant last month raise popular fears and disturbing questions, while offering lessons for the global community.

“This is a moment for deep reflection: How do we ensure both the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and maximum safety? We need a global rethink on this fundamental question,” he said.

“Because the consequences are catastrophic, safety must be paramount,” said the Secretary-General. “Because the consequences are transnational, they must be debated globally.”

Enhancing nuclear safety must begin with “a top to bottom review” of current nuclear safety standards, both at the national and international levels, he stated.

Noting that the primary responsibility for ensuring the safety of nuclear installations lies with national governments, he strongly urged States to consider lessons learned and adopt appropriate measures to apply the highest possible safety standards.

Second, he cited the need to strengthen support for the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on the challenge of nuclear safety, saying the time has come to boost the body’s capacity in the further development and universal application of the highest possible nuclear safety standards.

“Third, we must put a sharper focus on the new nexus between natural disasters and nuclear safety,” he stated. “The challenge of climate change is bringing with it greater extremes of weather. Nuclear power plants must be prepared to withstand everything from earthquakes to tsunamis, from fires to floods.”

According to the IAEA, 64 new reactors are under construction. Today, 443 are operating in 29 countries worldwide, some located in areas of seismic activity.

“This requires us to place new importance on disaster preparedness, in rich and poor nations alike,” Mr. Ban said.

It is also necessary, he said, to undertake a renewed cost-benefit analysis of nuclear energy. “Nuclear power will likely continue to be an important resource for many nations and can be a part of a low-carbon-emission energy mix – but it has to become credibly safe, and globally so.”

The Secretary-General added that he will launch a UN system-wide study on the implications of the accident at Fukushima.

Lastly, he stressed the need to build a stronger connection between nuclear safety and nuclear security, noting that while the two are distinct issues, boosting one can bolster the other.

“At a time when terrorists and others are seeking nuclear materials and technology, stringent safety systems at nuclear power plants will reinforce efforts to strengthen nuclear security,” he said. “A nuclear power plant that is safer for its community is also one that is more secure for our world.”

Together, these practical steps can help reassure the global public and better prepare the world’s people and the planet for the energy challenges of the 21st century, Mr. Ban stated.

“By joining forces, we can make sure that the tragedies of Chernobyl and Fukushima are a thing of the past, not a harbinger of the future.”

Concerning the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, Denis Flory, the IAEA Deputy Director General for Nuclear Safety and Security, told reporters in Vienna that although the situation remains very serious, there are early signs of recovery in some functions, such as electrical power and instrumentation.

On Sunday, Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry announced that TEPCO, the company that owns the power plant, issued a “Roadmap” towards bringing the stricken facility under control. The roadmap outlines 63 measures to be taken in two steps over a period of six to nine months.

Mr. Flory said that IAEA had also received information that TEPCO has provided a plan to Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) for the transfer of highly contaminated water from the basement floor of the turbine building of the plant’s unit 2 to the main building of the radioactive waste treatment facilities to reduce the risk of the stagnant waste water being discharged to the environment.


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