Nuclear safety goes global

2011-06-07 19:05

Paris - Thirty-three countries agreed on Tuesday that regular checks, better co-operation and a stronger role for the UN should spearhead safety improvements in nuclear power stations following the Fukushima disaster.

Ministers and senior officials from advanced economies and developing giants agreed that Fukushima was a stern lesson in risk prevention and crisis management, they said in a statement.

"We cannot continue to think the way we did before Fukushima," said France's ecology minister, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, who chaired the meeting.

"What we have learned from this disaster, and what we must remember, is that one accident at a nuclear power plant is enough to create grave and irreversible consequences for man and the environment.

"It is essential to improve co-operation on nuclear safety in the civil sector, on the international level."

The meeting proposed that all countries with nuclear facilities should carry out "stress tests" based on early data from the Fukushima disaster, and follow this with regular checks to ensure safety standards were met.

In addition, "it appears necessary to reinforce the global role and missions of the International Atomic Energy Agency," particular its mechanisms for reviewing national safety frameworks, the statement said.

The IAEA, at the G8 summit in Deauville, France, last month, has already been asked to scrutinise its safety norms, taking into account earthquake risks and the impact from climate change.

Harmonisation of procedures

As for nuclear crisis management, the meeting "reflected" on such options as emergency intervention teams and ways of pooling help, the statement said.

It called for harmonisation of procedures in the event of a nuclear crisis, for instance, in determining the ceilings above which iodine tablets should be distributed to civilians at risk from radioactivity.

Kosciusko-Morizet will present these proposals by policy-makers to nuclear regulatory watchdogs on Wednesday.

The conclusions will then be put to a meeting in Vienna of the IAEA from June 20-24, seen as a stepping stone towards new international guidelines and procedures for nuclear safety.

The meeting included representatives from the G8 economies as well as Brazil and India and from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA).

Earlier Tuesday, Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) said 770 000 terabecquerels of radiation escaped into the atmosphere in the first week of the Fukushima accident, more than double its its earlier estimate of 370 000 terabecquerels.