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Statements of the Deputy Directors General

3 November 2003 | Vienna, Austria

Opening Statement for the First Review Meeting of the Joint Convention


by Mr. Tomihoro Taniguchi
IAEA Deputy Director General, Head of the Department of Nuclear Safety and Security

My name is Tomihiro Taniguchi and I am Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Nuclear Safety and Security of the IAEA. On behalf of the Director General, I would like to welcome you to the Headquarters of the IAEA and to this First Review Meeting of the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management. I am also pleased to represent the IAEA in this meeting by acting as Secretary of the meeting, as foreseen in Rule 6 of the Rules of Procedure and Financial Rules.

Beginnings are always exciting and are often defining moments in setting the agenda for the future. This is a new convention – presenting many possibilities for making a difference in safety worldwide. The Joint Convention is very wide in its scope and it offers the opportunity to make real improvements in the safety of a wide variety of nuclear activities. The management of spent fuel and radioactive waste remains a matter of concern to many governments as well as to the public and therefore it is important to have safe and widely accepted solutions, as has been recognized in INPRO and numerous other studies and analyses on the future of nuclear technology.

We now have four international conventions covering the safety of nuclear energy activities. Two of them are concerned with responding to emergencies, the so-called Notification and Assistance Conventions, then there is, of course, the Nuclear Safety Convention and now we have the Joint Convention. In addition, we have a Code of Conduct on the Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources and we soon expect to have one on Research Reactor Safety. This means that there is a global institutional and legal framework which covers most of the major elements related to nuclear safety. We may need to consider, for the effective implementation of the Joint Convention in the coming years, how these various instruments should operate together in order to enhance synergies and to avoid duplications. We should also consider the relationship between these international instruments and the international Safety Standards. The Safety Standards are developed as consensual documents through a transparent and rigorous process involving senior staff of your national regulatory bodies and relevant industrial experts. Therefore, they represent the highest level of international consensus on safety matters. A particular example is the Safety Standards on the transport of radioactive materials which are directly applied as international and national regulations. In recent years, the standards have taken on a higher importance as the need for such international safety standards has become more evident with the increased globalisation of nuclear technology applications and also with the awareness of the potential for health impacts beyond national borders. They are clearly an integral part of what we now call the “global safety regime” or the “international safety framework” and although the conventions reflect, in their technical content, the principles of the top level Safety Fundamentals documents, the relationship between the “operative” safety standards and the conventions has yet to be clearly defined.

At the General Conference in September and more recently in an article in the Economist magazine, the Director General has addressed the subject of a ”new world security framework”. One part of his proposal concerns the need to consider multinational approaches to the management and disposal of spent fuel and radioactive waste. He argues that such approaches would have considerable benefits in terms of cost, safety, security and non-proliferation. Of course, such proposals are not new; they have already been discussed in many international fora and a variety of views have been expressed on them. Nevertheless, it seems to me that these are important matters for the international community to consider afresh, especially in the new context of the globalization of nuclear technology and concerns over safety, security and proliferation or, in the words of the Director General, “the threats and realities of the 21st Century".

While we must all welcome the fact that the Joint Convention is now operational it is, at the same time, disappointing that more countries have not ratified the Convention, especially when we consider that the Convention is relevant and potentially valuable to all countries in the world that have radioactive waste. In this context, I would like to recall that, at the General Conference this year, one of the resolutions addressed this point and encouraged "all member States which have not yet taken the necessary steps to become party to the Joint Convention to do so" and "encouraged the Secretariat to promote ratification of the Joint Convention through the Technical Co-operation programme and the development of material highlighting to countries the benefits of ratifying the Joint Convention".

I am optimistic that this First Review Meeting of the Joint Convention will mark the starting point of a steady movement towards achieving a high level of safety worldwide in all aspects of spent fuel and radioactive waste management. Important and innovative elements of the Nuclear Safety and the Joint Convention processes are the mechanisms of self-assessment and peer review with the resulting “feedback” leading to national safety improvements. The intensive effort required to produce national reports is, in itself, a form of “self-assessment”. This is further refined and extended through the international peer review process at the review meetings and it results in a valuable “feedback” mechanism of this mutual learning process. Experience from the Nuclear Safety Convention has shown a steady but marked progress towards improved safety. At the Second Review Meeting, the level of participation increased compared with the First Review Meeting, the discussions were more focussed and “in-depth”, since they were directed at following up the findings of the First Review Meeting. Let us hope that we see similar trends with the Joint Convention, recognizing that it is different in many respects from the Nuclear Safety Convention and may be expected to have its own characteristic evolution.

I would now like to introduce the persons sitting here with me on this rostrum. On my immediate left is Mr. Laurence Williams of the United Kingdom who was elected as President of this First Review Meeting at the Organizational Meeting held in April of this year, next is Mr. Johan Rautenbach, Director of the Agency’s Office of Legal Affairs, and next to him is Mr. Wolfram Tonhauser, also of the Agency’s Office of Legal Affairs. On my right is Mr. Gordon Linsley, Head of the Agency’s Waste Safety Section in the Department of Nuclear Safety and Security.

Finally, I would like to wish you success in your deliberations over the next two weeks.

Now, I invite the President to take over the meeting.