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Nuclear Plant Safety: No Room for Complacency

International Conference on Operational Safety Performance in Nuclear Installations

Delegates at the International Conference on Operational Safety Performance in Nuclear Installations. (Photo Credit: D. Calma/IAEA)

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Today´s nuclear power plants are performing at higher safety levels than twenty years ago, but there is no room for complacency when it comes to their continuing safe operation, delegates at the International Conference on Operational Safety Performance in Nuclear Installations in Vienna heard this week.

The safety bar is significantly higher than in the days of the 1986 Chernobyl accident. "We can point to a substantially improved nuclear safety situation throughout the world," IAEA Head of Nuclear Safety and Security Mr. Tomihiro Taniguchi told the conference. Over 150 of the world´s nuclear regulators and operators are attending the three-day event this week at the IAEA headquarters in Austria.

Mr. Tomihiro Taniguchi cited the way the nuclear industry had coped with severe natural disasters as a testament. "Tsunamis, floods, hurricanes and earthquakes have affected many parts of the world and nuclear installations everywhere responded admirably," he said. "The design and operational features ensured that the extreme natural conditions would not jeopardize safety."

However, Mr. Taniguchi issued a strong warning to the industry against complacency in an age where more than half the world's nuclear power plants are more than 20 years old, with many operators wanting to extend the lifetime of plants beyond their original design.

"There is a very real possibility that we will become complacent with our high level of performance," he cautioned.

The nuclear industry knows too well that a major accident at any one nuclear power plant in the world would weigh heavily on the entire industry. A core element of the IAEA´s work is to help countries to upgrade nuclear safety and to prepare for and respond to emergencies. The Agency sets and promotes international safety standards for the management and regulation of activities involving nuclear and radioactive materials.

The focus of the three-day conference in Vienna is to foster the exchange of information on operational safety performance and operating experience in nuclear installations, with the aim of consolidating an international consensus on:

  • The present status of these issues;
  • Emerging issues with international implications;
  • Priorities for future work; and
  • Needs for strengthening international co-operation, including recommendations for future activities for the IAEA, NEA, nuclear operators and regulatory authorities.

Mr. Taniguchi called for strong safety leadership, effective safety management and sustained safety culture, especially for those nuclear plants facing extended operations. See Story Resources for more.