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24 October 2011 | Shenzhen, China
World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) Biennial General Meeting

Statement to World Association of Nuclear Operators Biennial General Meeting

by IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano

Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good morning.

I am grateful for the opportunity to address this important gathering, which is taking place at a crucial time for the nuclear energy sector. I greatly value the experience and expertise of the World Association of Nuclear Operators and I welcome your decision to devote this biennial general meeting to the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan. Together, WANO and the IAEA will play a key role in ensuring that the right lessons are learned from the accident and that the necessary improvements in nuclear operating safety are actually put into practice everywhere. We have been good partners since WANO was created in 1989. In the aftermath of Fukushima Daiichi, I believe our partnership must be deepened and intensified.

Since the Fukushima Daiichi accident, the IAEA has worked hard to help Japan bring the situation at the site under control and to mitigate the consequences of the accident. The Agency's view is that all of the crippled reactors are now generally stable. The Japanese authorities are doing their utmost to achieve cold shutdown of all of them by the end of the year. I visited Japan a number of times for consultations with the Prime Minister and government ministers and went to the site of the accident in July. I dispatched international expert teams to assist in areas such as radiological monitoring and food safety. The Agency helped to channel international technical assistance to Japan and we also provided independent and factual reports on the situation to our Member States. We conducted a number of fact-finding missions, most recently on environmental remediation and related waste management issues.

I convened a special IAEA Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Safety, devoted to the Fukushima Daiichi accident, which took place in Vienna in June. The Conference adopted a Ministerial Declaration aimed at strengthening nuclear safety, emergency preparedness, and radiation protection of people and the environment worldwide. That Declaration formed the basis of the 12-point IAEA Action Plan on Nuclear Safety, which was endorsed by all Member States at our General Conference last month.

Key elements of the Action Plan include an agreement that all Member States with nuclear power programmes will promptly undertake what have become known as "stress tests" of their nuclear power plants. The framework for IAEA peer reviews is being strengthened. The effectiveness of national and international emergency preparedness and response arrangements, IAEA safety standards and the international legal framework is also being reviewed.

The other elements of the Action Plan are:

  • Regular reviews of national regulatory bodies;
  • Regular reviews of management systems, safety culture, human resources management and scientific and technical capacities in operating organizations;
  • Helping newcomers to create an appropriate nuclear infrastructure based on IAEA Safety Standards;
  • Strengthening national capacity building programmes;
  • Cooperating on monitoring, decontamination and remediation in Japan;
  • Improving communication and the dissemination of information; and
  • Undertaking research and development in areas highlighted by the accident, such as extreme natural hazards.

We at the Agency have set to work with vigour to fulfil our responsibilities under the Action Plan.

Mr. Chairman,

Despite the Fukushima Daiichi accident, we will continue to see significant growth in the use of nuclear power in the next two decades. The latest IAEA projections suggest that growth will be slower than we had anticipated before the accident. Nevertheless, we expect the number of operating nuclear reactors in the world to continue to increase steadily in the coming decades. Most of the growth will occur in countries that already have operating nuclear power plants, such as China and India. Almost all of the countries which had nuclear power plants before March 11 will continue to operate them. And in what the Agency calls "newcomer" countries, interest in introducing nuclear power remains strong.

WANO and the IAEA share a common central goal, which - to quote from WANO's mission statement - is to maximise the safety and reliability of nuclear power plants throughout the world. Our cooperation until now has focussed on sharing information, attending some of each other's meetings and participating in some peer review missions together. WANO has informally reviewed some of the IAEA draft Safety Standards. We hold joint workshops and seminars.

The IAEA's 151 Member States want us to go further. In the Action Plan on Nuclear Safety, the IAEA Secretariat was asked to "strengthen cooperation with WANO by amending their Memorandum of Understanding to enhance information exchange on operating experience and on other relevant safety and engineering areas." We were also requested to "explore mechanisms to enhance communication and interaction among operating organizations."

I would like to offer a few practical suggestions for your consideration.

Peer reviews are a key area where I believe we could do more. The IAEA and WANO should continue to exchange information about results of their respective review missions to nuclear power plants, subject to any confidentiality considerations, while maintaining the distinctive features of their programmes. In the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi accident, both of our organizations plan to increase the frequency of such missions - OSART missions in the case of the Agency and Peer Reviews on WANO's part. We should improve coordination concerning our respective missions in order to avoid scheduling WANO Peer Reviews and IAEA OSART missions too close together.

WANO's peer review missions take place much more frequently than IAEA missions and you amass considerable detailed information about the day-to-day safety issues dealt with by operators. Our OSART missions have the advantage of being carried out at the invitation of the governments of Member States. They are firmly rooted in the internationally agreed IAEA Safety Standards and key findings are shared with other Member States. These two approaches complement each other well and I believe closer cooperation between us in this area would be mutually beneficial.

At present, WANO rules prohibit the sharing of information contained in your Significant Operating Experience Reports with the Agency because of confidentiality requirements, which we fully understand. However, I am confident that ways could be found to share certain information in a way that protects confidentiality. For example, information on general issues and trends in operational safety, as well as lessons learned, could be shared in summary form, without references to specific utilities or countries. This would be extremely helpful in keeping our safety standards up to date and in broadening our understanding of the issues faced by operators. For our part, we could widen WANO's existing access to our joint IAEA/NEA web based International Reporting System.

I would welcome greater WANO participation in IAEA activities generally, as requested by IAEA Member States in the Action Plan. The possibility for WANO representatives to attend IAEA workshops, expert missions and technical and consultancy meetings already exists, but more use should be made of it. I believe WANO representatives should attend meetings of the IAEA Nuclear Safety Standards Committee as an observer, providing valuable input from the perspective of those who actually have to apply safety standards. They should be more involved in preparing IAEA publications. Meetings at the working level between staff of both organizations to share experience would also be useful.

Finally, Mr Chairman, the issue of newcomers to nuclear power, which is addressed in our Action Plan, is important to both organisations. In the next few years, we could see as many as five new nuclear utilities signing contracts ordering their first nuclear power plants. I welcome the support which WANO is already providing to new owner-operator organizations and look forward to strengthening our cooperation with you in this area. Together, we can help to ensure that the most robust safety culture establishes deep roots in all countries with nuclear power programmes.

Mr. Chairman,

Nuclear safety remains the responsibility of individual countries, but the IAEA will play the leading role in shaping a safer nuclear future throughout the world. It is important for all of us - governments, nuclear regulators, plant operators and the IAEA - to maintain our sense of urgency even after the crisis at Fukushima Daiichi has faded from the international headlines. All stakeholders must play their part to ensure that the measures agreed in the IAEA Action Plan are implemented fully and quickly.

The IAEA greatly values its cooperation with WANO and looks forward to strengthening it in the coming years. I wish you every success with your meeting.

Thank you.