Statement at Fukushima Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Safety

by IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano

Koriyama City, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan | Fukushima Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Safety

Mr. President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

When disaster struck at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in March 2011, the IAEA offered immediate assistance to the Plant operators and the Japanese authorities as they tried to regain control over the reactors.

We began sharing verified information about the accident with the world and helped to channel international assistance to Japan.

A high priority was to do everything we could to help ensure the safety of the people of Japan, especially those in Fukushima Prefecture who were most affected by the crisis.

I went to Japan a few days after the accident to meet then Prime Minister Kan. I assured him that Japan could count on the support of the entire international community and stressed the need for full transparency.

I sent a number of expert teams to assist in areas such as radiological monitoring, food safety, and analysis of the situation at the Fukushima Daiichi Plant.

Four IAEA teams undertook measurements in the Fukushima region, both inside and outside the 20 km evacuation zone. An expert on marine monitoring programmes from the IAEA Environmental Laboratories helped to monitor seawater. Joint teams from the IAEA and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization advised local authorities on technical issues related to food safety and agricultural countermeasures.

Some important environmental readings at key points in the unfolding crisis were taken by IAEA experts. Our presence helped to provide reassurance to the people of Japan at a very critical time.

It is now one year and nine months since the accident. In that time, we have continued to work closely with Japan.

Today, I will sign an important document with Governor Sato of Fukushima Prefecture on our cooperation in the coming years.

The IAEA will work closely with the Prefecture in radiation monitoring and decontamination. We will also implement human health projects with Fukushima Medical University.

Mr. President.

Many of us had a chance to visit the accident site yesterday. Although considerable work has been done since the accident, I am sure the extent of the devastation still came as a shock.

The Fukushima Daiichi accident was a wake-up call for everyone involved in nuclear power. It reminded us that safety can never be taken for granted, even in advanced industrial countries with considerable experience of using nuclear energy.

This Ministerial Conference, organized by Japan and co-sponsored by the IAEA, is a valuable opportunity for the world to reaffirm its commitment to helping Japan to deal with the aftermath of the accident. We must also renew our determination to make nuclear power as safe as humanly possible throughout the world.

We have already learned many useful lessons. Important steps have been taken to make nuclear power plants safer everywhere. There has been much sharing of information and experience.

However, it will take many years before we fully understand exactly what happened. In the meantime, we must maintain the momentum and implement all possible improvements to nuclear safety to help ensure that such accidents do not occur again.

The IAEA and our 158 Member States are working hard to implement the IAEA Action Plan on Nuclear Safety which was agreed last year.

Significant progress has been made. Virtually all Member States with nuclear power plants have conducted stress tests to assess how well nuclear installations are likely to withstand extreme events such as earthquakes and tsunamis. Many practical steps have been taken, such as equipping plants with portable diesel generators and building higher protective walls.

The IAEA has expanded its programme of expert peer reviews. These assess the operational safety of a country's nuclear power plants, the effectiveness of its regulatory system, or its emergency preparedness and response arrangements. Numerous missions have been conducted this year. However, in some cases, countries have still not requested IAEA peer reviews as stipulated in the Action Plan. I encourage all countries to make full use of our peer review missions.

We have conducted a thorough review of IAEA safety standards, especially of safety requirements applicable to nuclear power plants and the storage of spent fuel. No deficiencies were identified in the safety requirements. However, consideration is being given to strengthening safety requirements in areas such as dealing with prolonged loss of power, properly identifying potential external hazards and ensuring safety under severe accident conditions.

Reports on three IAEA international expert meetings held this year have been prepared for this Conference. These covered reactor and spent fuel safety, protection against extreme earthquakes and tsunamis, and communication in the event of a nuclear or radiological emergency. Additional international expert meetings will take place in 2013.

We have held numerous training events and exercises on aspects of emergency preparedness and response. A new Emergency Preparedness and Response Expert Group is being established to advise on strategy for strengthening international preparedness for nuclear and radiological incidents and emergencies.

Preparatory work has begun on a comprehensive IAEA report on the Fukushima Daiichi accident, which will be finalised in 2014.

As Japan proceeds with clean-up work in and around the Fukushima Daiichi Plant, it can count on the continued support of the Agency and of other Member States. Considerable specialist knowledge and expertise are available in areas such as decontamination, safe disposal of spent fuel and dismantling damaged reactors. International cooperation is needed to ensure that the best available technology is used. This will enhance the transparency and credibility of the remediation process.

Mr. President,

Despite the Fukushima Daiichi accident, nuclear energy will remain an important option for many countries. They believe it can help to improve their energy security, reduce the impact of volatile fossil fuel prices, mitigate the effects of climate change and make economies more competitive.

The latest IAEA projections show a steady rise in the number of nuclear power plants in the world in the next 20 years. Safety must always come first as the use of nuclear power grows.

The lasting legacy of the Fukushima Daiichi accident will be a much more intense focus on safety. Nuclear safety remains the responsibility of individual countries. However, governments have recognized that effective international cooperation is vitally important and that the IAEA has a unique role to play.

I would like to end by paying tribute to the staff and emergency workers at the Fukushima Daiichi Plant for their courage and dedication. I pledge continued full support to the Japanese authorities. And I assure the people of Fukushima Prefecture that dealing with the aftermath of this terrible accident remains a top priority for the IAEA.

I wish you every success in your deliberations.

Thank you.

Last update: 21 October 2014