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Nuclear Safety Worldwide Reviewed

Linda Keen

President of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, Ms. Linda Keen is chairing the Review Meeting on the global Nuclear Safety Convention. She is flanked by IAEA Deputy Director General Tomihiro Taniguchi (right) and Wolfram Tonhauser of the Office of Legal Affairs.
(Photo credit: D. Calma/IAEA)

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Top nuclear officials from more than 30 countries are at IAEA headquarters for two weeks in April to review the safety of nuclear power plants. The countries are parties to an international convention that binds them to achieve and maintain high standards of safety at land-based nuclear installations.

Under the international Convention on Nuclear Safety, parties meet every three years to "peer review" their national nuclear safety programmes. Countries submit reports covering, for example, the construction, operation and regulation of their civilian nuclear power plants.

This is the third review meeting of the Convention since it entered into force in 1996. The Convention was developed in response to international concerns over nuclear safety that evolved during the late 1970s and 1980s. The catalyst was the 1986 Chernobyl accident, when international implications of nuclear safety were magnified and interest intensified in internationally binding safety standards.

The Review Meeting´s chair, Ms. Linda Keen of Canada, said the countries meeting in Vienna were collectively committed to maintaining high safety standards.

During the two-week review meeting in Vienna, parties will engage in a "peer review" process in which National Reports about the safety of commercial nuclear plants in each country will be collectively examined and discussed. The National Reports cover the years 2002, 2003, and 2004.

"This process allows the Convention´s Contracting Parties to share information freely, to more effectively improve safety measures within their respective countries, and to identify ways in which international cooperation can improve worldwide nuclear power plant safety," said Mr. Ken Brockman, Head of IAEA Nuclear Installation Safety.

This month India became the latest country to ratify the pact, bringing the number of ratifying countries to 56. All of the world´s 441 nuclear power plants are operating in countries where the Nuclear Safety Convention is in force.

The IAEA is the Depositary of the Convention, and provides Secretariat support to the Contracting Parties. The Convention is an "incentive-based" agreement that does not rely on controls and sanctions but rather on the concept of self assessment, information sharing and active peer review. "Neither the IAEA nor the Contracting Parties, therefore, serve in compliance roles. Instead, the interactions of the Peer Review process serve to entice open communications and corrective actions. To date, this has been quite effective," Mr. Brockman said.

See Story Resources for further background information on the convention, its status and available national reports.