Despite progress, nuclear reactor safety still falls short - UN atomic watchdog
6 March 2006 – Despite the efforts of the past two decades to upgrade civilian nuclear reactor safety, facilities still exist where safety assistance needs to be made a priority even as expectations for atomic power as an energy source are rising measurably, the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency warned today.
“Nuclear safety is not an issue that can ever be regarded as ‘fixed,’” International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei told a Board of Governors meeting at its Vienna headquarters in his latest report, noting that growing global needs and rising oil and gas prices have fuelled new interest in atomic energy.
“But equally important has been the sustained strong performance, in terms of safety and productivity, of existing nuclear plants,” he said. “While the strong, steady safety performance of recent years is reassuring, events of concern continue to take place, even in countries with extensive operating experience and strong regulatory oversight.
“These events make clear that the management of nuclear safety, including the establishment of a strong safety culture for both operators and regulators, must always be viewed as a ‘work in progress,’” he said.
“From my own discussions with operators and regulators, I believe it is particularly vital that we work harder to fix the so-called ‘weak links’ in the nuclear safety chain,” he added, listing less than optimal design safety features, the lack of strong, independent regulatory oversight, and poor coordination among the international organizations providing safety assistance.
For such facilities, the international community should move expeditiously, with coordination between all relevant organizations, to clarify the actions needed, the expected costs, and a strategy and schedule for proceeding, Mr. ElBaradei warned. “I am pleased to note that these focused efforts have recently been taking place at some facilities,” he said.
He noted that the IAEA has also been pressing for increased harmonization in national regulatory approaches, to ensure high quality, independent oversight for nuclear activities, as evidenced by the International Conference on Effective Nuclear Regulatory Systems held in Moscow last week – the first effort to bring together all senior regulators with oversight in nuclear safety, radiation safety and nuclear security.
The conference made a number of recommendations, including wider participation by all countries in international conventions and other instruments, and renewed emphasis on international cooperation in developing a comprehensive body of international safety standards.
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