Talks begin on UN study of health, environmental impacts of Fukushima accident

IAEA fact-finding team examines devastation at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in May 2011. Photo: IAEA/Greg Webb

26 September 2011 – Members of a United Nations task force looking into the health and environmental impacts of the accident earlier this year at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan today began discussions on how to move forward with their assessment.

“This basically is a management meeting about how we assess the risks and effects,” said Wolfgang Weiss, Chair of the UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR), said in a news release issued in Vienna.

Since the accident, which occurred in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in March, the international community has mobilized to assess and apply lessons learned. It has discussed the issue at numerous forums and taken concrete steps, including the adoption by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of an action plan to strengthen nuclear safety.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched a UN system-wide study on the implications of the accident. In addition, national authorities have undertaken voluntary reviews of natural hazards facing their nuclear installations, and governments have reviewed safety standards and regulations.

The Fukushima Assessment Task Force, which Mr. Weiss chairs, will look at a range of issues, including how much radioactive material was released, how the accident compares with other similar incidents such as Chernobyl, the effects on the environment and on foodstuffs, and the likely impact on human health.

As well as assessing the effects in Japan from the accident, the study will also evaluate its effects in other countries.

The task force is expected to provide preliminary findings to UNSCEAR’s annual session in May 2012 in an interim report, following which a final report will be submitted to the UN General Assembly in 2013.

“We appreciate public concern about the effects of the accident but to provide a comprehensive and accurate assessment requires a methodical and painstaking process – we can’t afford to rush,” said Mr. Weiss.

UNSCEAR is a committee of world-renowned scientists from 21 Member States designated by the General Assembly to conduct regular evaluations of the levels of exposure from all sources of ionizing radiation and the associated health and environmental effects.

In a related development, the IAEA is setting up a nuclear safety action team to oversee prompt implementation of the 12-point action plan, drawn up in the wake of the Fukushima accident, and ensure proper coordination among all stakeholders.

A key element of the plan is an agreement by all Member States with nuclear power programmes to promptly undertake a national assessment of the design of nuclear power plants, focused on the lessons learned from Fukushima, and to take corrective action where necessary.

The agency has already started implementing its responsibilities under the plan, including development of an IAEA methodology for stress tests for nuclear power plants that should be ready in October.


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