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IAEA chief outlines immediate safety steps after accident in Japan

The head of the United Nations atomic energy agency today outlined measures he said could be quickly implemented to improve nuclear safety globally in the wake of the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan three months ago.

Yukiya Amano, the Director General of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) told reporters on the sidelines of the Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Safety in Vienna that the first measure would be to strengthen the IAEA safety standards and to ensure that they are universally applied.

He also recommended a systematic review of the safety of all nuclear power plants, saying the assessments should be conducted nationally by Member States with an additional review by the IAEA.

National regulatory bodies must be genuinely independent, adequately funded and staffed by well-trained people, Mr. Amano said. He also stressed the need to strengthen global emergency preparedness and response systems, and to expand the IAEA information-sharing role during crises to include providing analysis and possible scenarios.

“All these are practical measures which will not require lengthy negotiations or amendments to safety conventions,” said Mr. Amano. “The coming months will be crucial for taking immediate remedial measures and to lay a solid ground for the future activities with the aim of strengthening nuclear safety,” he added.

He described that Fukushima Daiichi crisis as a “terrible accident,” but added that he was confident that the right lessons will be learned, and that nuclear power plants globally will be made much safer as a result. “The IAEA will ply a central role in making that happen,” he added.

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power sustained major damage during the massive earthquake and ensuing tsunami that struck Japan on 11 March. Significant levels of radiation continued to leak from the damaged facility for weeks following the tsunami.

The ministerial conference is later today expected to adopt a declaration on nuclear safety, marking the formal start of a process which will lead to a significant strengthening of nuclear safety throughout the world, Mr. Amano added.

In his message to the conference, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said lessons learned in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi incident will inform decisions on nuclear safety in the future.

“The future of nuclear energy is critically dependent upon the maintenance of the highest safety standards,” Mr. Ban said in the message, delivered on his behalf by the Sergio Duarte, the UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs.

“This is why nuclear safety is widely viewed as a global public good; its success serves the interests of people everywhere, but its failure can lead to disasters that respect no national boundaries,” he said.

The Secretary-General noted that political momentum is growing for additional steps to enhance nuclear safety, including the measures considered recently at the Group of 8 (G8) Summit, the Ministerial Seminar on Nuclear Safety hosted by France, and the Third Session of the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction.

He pointed out that he had last month launched a UN system-wide study on the full implications of the Fukushima Daiichi accident. A report being prepared will be submitted to the High-Level Meeting on Nuclear Safety and Security to be held at UN Headquarters in New York on 22 September.

“A new page of history is about to be turned in our relationship with nuclear energy. The challenge of nuclear safety merits our utmost ingenuity and will,” said Mr. Ban. “When it comes to nuclear safety, nations must remain united.”

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