Statement at Third Review Meeting of Joint Convention on Safety of Spent Fuel Management and Safety of Radioactive Waste Management

Vienna, Austria

Tomihiro Taniguchi IAEA Deputy Director General, Head of the Department of Nuclear Safety and Security

Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen,

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you to Vienna for the third review meeting of the Joint Convention. This third review meeting marks almost ten years of implementation of the Joint Convention as an important element within the Global Nuclear Safety and Security Regime. Over these years, the number of contracting parties has increased from 33 at the first review meeting to 48 at this meeting. Let me take this opportunity to welcome our newest contracting parties since the last review meeting, which are the countries of China, Kyrgyzstan, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. I look forward to your active participation in this important Convention.

It is with great sadness that we learned of the recent passing of one of our country group chairs, Mr. Ray Lambert from Canada. Mr. Lambert fulfilled his duties as an officer for the Joint Convention with much commitment and energy. The Agency offers its sincere condolences to his family, friends and colleagues.

While the Joint Convention is certainly a complementary element to other legal instruments in the safety regime, such as the Convention on Nuclear Safety, it is more universal in its scope and it is applicable to all countries. Although the number of contracting parties to the Joint Convention has increased over the years, it still stands today that almost all countries use radioactive materials, yet less than one quarter are contracting parties to the Joint Convention. Therefore, I think that we should make a concerted effort at this third review meeting to build further momentum in increasing membership, clarifying the future direction in the global implementation of the Joint Convention and strengthening the linkages among all the elements in the Global Nuclear Safety and Security Regime.

Strengthening the Global Nuclear Safety and Security Regime

In the global regime, conventions and codes of conduct, work in synergy with international standards, guidelines, peer reviews and knowledge networks to support the national infrastructures that are the foundation for nuclear safety and security worldwide. In particular, conventions and codes of conduct provide for valuable mutual learning and knowledge sharing opportunities for those who participate. However, unlike the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and the Early Notification and Assistance Conventions, which all have more than 100 participating countries, the participation levels in the Joint Convention is not in proportion to its value.

As such, I believe it is necessary that Contracting Parties of conventions work together to do three important things. First, we should further improve upon the usefulness of the convention process for sharing experiences so that it is viewed as an attractive and valuable tool to help continuously improve national infrastructures as responsible members of the global nuclear community. Second, Contracting Parties should support outreach efforts to encourage non-contracting parties, whether neighbouring or not, to participate in conventions and benefit from their processes. Third, we should consider ways to facilitate a new party´s accession to the Joint Convention, including the use of knowledge sharing networks and supporting arrangements from contracting parties and from the secretariat, when requested.

Building on the Second Review Meeting

At the second review meeting, there were several key agreements that were reached by the Contracting Parties, such as producing more focused and self-standing National reports and placing greater emphasis on lessons learned and experience feedback. In addition, the Open-Ended Working Group discussed improvements for the third review meeting. Specifically, the three topics considered were ways to increase membership, improvements in the review process, and the role of safety standards in the review process.

Building upon the success of the second review meeting, the third review meeting is a key step in making forward progress towards continuously improving the implementation of the Joint Convention in consideration of the global challenges we face today. The third review meeting is set against a backdrop of renewed interest in nuclear technologies, not only for nuclear power generation to meet global energy needs, but also for other nuclear applications such as medical and industrial uses.

La Vita Nuova

Many pundits refer to this renewed interest as a "nuclear renaissance." I, on the other hand, view this reality as a Vita Nuova, or new life, because the nuclear community needs new ideas and innovative thinking to address new global challenges, rather than a simple revival of the "good old days." While the international nuclear community has achieved high levels of safety and security performance, the challenges we face today remind us that we cannot become complacent. Not only do we need sustained vigilance, we also need deeper insight and broader foresight to further strengthen the Global Nuclear Safety and Security Regime in order to meet these new challenges.

Let me now focus my remarks on some of the present challenges that underscore the need for continued international cooperation to improve and strengthen the safety and security worldwide and to prevent any serious accidents and incidents.

New and Expanding Nuclear Power Programmes

I already touched upon the renewed interest in nuclear technologies, and to give you an idea of the magnitude of this renewed interest, nearly 70 countries are considering or have expressed interest in developing nuclear power programmes. I believe it is very important that these new countries join the Global Nuclear Safety and Security Regime through implementing international legal instruments, like the Joint Convention and the Code of Conduct on the Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources, effectively using IAEA safety standards and review services, and actively participating in global and regional knowledge networks. Spent fuel and radioactive waste management are particularly challenging tasks faced by new countries and a prime concern of the public.

While prospective new nuclear programmes receive much attention, the expansion of existing programmes is far more significant in terms of the total size of the development. In terms of installed capacity, what this means is the potential increase from about 370 GWe to about 470 GWe in the low case IAEA projection or to about 750 GWe in the high case by 2030. This translates roughly into 100 to 300 net additional 1000 MW units, which is indeed substantial, particularly in consideration of the increasing number of replacement and decommissioning nuclear power plants not explicitly included in these figures and the further spent fuel and radioactive waste that will need to be safely managed.

More Sophisticated and Wider Use of Radioactive Sources

Beyond nuclear power applications, more sophisticated and wider use of radioactive sources can be found throughout the world. This can be seen particularly in the field of medicine and industry, where advanced radiation techniques are being more widely introduced.

Multinational Considerations

On top of the renewed interest in nuclear power and the more use of radioactive sources, today´s nuclear business and activities are increasingly multinational in nature, and no longer confined to the borders of one country. To the contrary, a nuclear activity in one country is likely to transcend national borders to involve governments, non-governmental organizations, industry and the public media from many countries. Such multinational complexities in supply, utilization and impact chains require improved communication, enhanced cooperation and appropriate oversight by vendors, operators and regulators to ensure that safety, product quality and organizational competence are maintained.

In light of such global challenges, the idea of a Vita Nova that requires innovative thinking is particularly relevant. Hence, self assessment and peer review activities are strong catalysts for creating and sharing innovative thinking.

Importance of Self Assessment and Peer Review

Through experience, it is widely shared that self-assessment and peer review activities are valuable tools to help ensure high levels of safety and security performance. In fact, these tools are becoming almost mandatory for European Union Member States, as noted in a newly proposed directive by the European Commission. Two particularly important opportunities for self assessment and peer review are the Convention on Nuclear Safety and the Joint Convention, which oblige the Contracting Parties to submit their country reports for international peer review.

I should note that while nuclear power plants have made peer reviews and self-assessment valuable common practices, many other nuclear applications throughout the world have not. The international nuclear community can certainly improve in further employing self assessments and international peer reviews as valuable mutual learning opportunities. In this sense, the Joint Convention process is particularly valuable.

Recent and Forthcoming Events Related to Spent Fuel and Radioactive Waste Management

Following up on recommendations from the second review meeting, the Agency has made organized efforts to conduct several regional meetings, in countries such as Indonesia, the Philippines, Egypt and Argentina, to promote the Joint Convention and improve its implementation. Furthermore, the Agency took follow up actions to establish the Decommissioning Review Services and re-establish its Uranium Production Site Appraisal Team (UPSAT) peer review programme.

I should note that this Joint Convention process is not the only opportunity for effective international cooperation towards improving safety of spent fuel and radioactive waste. The International Workshop on Intermediate Radioactive Waste Disposal in Korea last December and the International Workshop on Sustainable Management of Disused Sealed Radioactive Sources in Thailand this past January were significant events for international cooperation and mutual learning.

Next week, the International Conference on Remediation of Land Contaminated by Radioactive Material Residues will be conducted in Kazakhstan, and in 2010, the International Conference on Management of Spent Fuel from Nuclear Power Reactors will be held in Vienna. These events help contribute to the continuous improvement of global nuclear safety and security.

Concluding Remarks

In conclusion, I do believe that worldwide nuclear safety performance has been praiseworthy. At the same time, I also believe that the need for vigilance, continuous improvement and new thinking is highlighted regarding new entrant and rapidly expanding nuclear power programmes, more sophisticated and wider use of radioactive sources, and the multinational nature of today´s nuclear activities. Self assessment combined with international peer review activities, such as those associated with international legal instruments like the Joint Convention, are vital mechanisms to maintaining vigilance and high levels of safety through international cooperation.

I will reiterate once more that we all need to encourage those Member States who are not yet parties of the Joint Convention to join, and actively participate in order to benefit from the mutual learning experience. Promotion of the Joint Convention is not only reserved for the secretariat, but it is also crucial that Contracting Parties approach their neighbours who are not parties to ratify the convention. Furthermore, such promotion should be accompanied by practical support, where practicable, to assist the new party´s accession to the convention, and the secretariat is indeed willing to support such cooperation for this purpose.

The IAEA is committed to promoting international cooperation to help maintain a high level of nuclear safety and security and to continuously improve the global regime for this purpose. On a broader level, we should all consider how to strengthen the linkages among all the elements of the Global Nuclear Safety and Security Regime, namely the international legal instruments, safety standards, review and advisory services, and knowledge networks to support and further strengthen existing national and regional infrastructures.

I appreciate the commitment of the Contracting Parties to the Joint Convention and I encourage your active participation in this review meeting. I wish you a successful third review meeting. Thank you for your attention.

Last update: 11 November 2014