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The IAEA's Contribution to Improved Nuclear Safety Over the Past Decades

Gustavo Caruso

The Fukushima Daiichi accident underlined the importance of international cooperation on nuclear safety. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

Following the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on 11 March 2011, the IAEA set out to review and strengthen nuclear safety globally, drawing on lessons learned from the accident.

IAEA Action Plan for Nuclear Safety

Efforts began at the IAEA Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Safety convened in June 2011. There, the IAEA Action Plan on Nuclear Safety was developed. Endorsed by Member States in September 2011, the Action Plan defined a programme of work to strengthen the global nuclear safety framework in response to the accident.

The IAEA’s efforts in the formulation of its nuclear safety strategy must and will continue. It is essential that the IAEA maintain and build upon this momentum to strengthen global nuclear safety.
Gustavo Caruso, Director, Office of Safety and Security Coordination, IAEA Department of Nuclear Safety and Security

Since the adoption of the Action Plan, significant progress has been made in several key areas, including assessments of the safety vulnerabilities of nuclear power plants; strengthening of the IAEA’s safety peer review services; as necessary, revision of the relevant IAEA safety standards; improvements in emergency preparedness and response capabilities; capacity building in nuclear and radiation safety, as well as strengthening of safety culture; enhancements in communication and information sharing with and among national authorities; international cooperation; and strengthening of relevant international legal frameworks.

As part of their work under the Action Plan, operating countries introduced measures (that are still being implemented) to enhance nuclear safety, including those taken in response to the results from nuclear power plants’ vulnerability assessments. In addition, the Action Plan reinforced the importance of having a questioning attitude when it comes to safety, by challenging existing assumptions about safety and their validity. By implementing the Action Plan, all parties involved demonstrated their commitment to enhance nuclear safety at nuclear power plants and other nuclear facilities worldwide.

The Action Plan also called on the IAEA Secretariat, Member States and relevant international organizations to review and strengthen the international emergency preparedness and response framework. Countries responded to the accident with immediate measures, which included carrying out ‘stress tests’ to reassess the design of nuclear power plants against site specific extreme natural hazards, installing additional backup sources of electrical power and water supplies, and strengthening the protection of plants against extreme external events.

Although most of the work under the Action Plan has concluded, there are still some longer-term activities that will be completed in the years to come. The focus on the lessons learned from the accident remain.

As part of the Action Plan, the IAEA held nine international experts’ meetings that analysed key technical aspects of the Fukushima Daiichi accident. It also conducted over 15 international experts’ missions to Japan and published reports on these missions reports to create a solid knowledge base for the future and continue strengthening nuclear safety worldwide.

The IAEA Fukushima Daiichi accident report

In 2015, the IAEA published The Fukushima Daiichi Accident, a comprehensive report on the accident. It provides an authoritative, factual and balanced assessment, addressing the causes and consequences of the accident, as well as lessons learned. The publication of the Report by the IAEA Director General and its five accompanying technical volumes was the result of an extensive international collaborative effort involving over 180 experts from 42 countries — with and without nuclear power programmes — and several international bodies. Their participation ensured a broad representation of experience and knowledge. An International Technical Advisory Group provided advice on technical and scientific issues.

The Report provides a description of the accident, as well as its causes, evolution and consequences, drawing upon data and information from up to March 2015, from a wide range of sources. It includes the results of the work carried out in implementing the IAEA Action Plan on Nuclear Safety, and it highlights the main observations and lessons. Significant amounts of data were provided by the Government of Japan and other organizations in Japan.

The Report calls for a systemic approach to safety that addresses the entire system by considering the dynamic interactions within and among three types of factors: human or individual (e.g. knowledge, thoughts, decisions, actions), technical (e.g. technology, tools, equipment) and organizational (e.g. management system, organizational structure, governance, resources). This systemic approach to safety works by addressing this complex system of interactions as a whole. The Report also highlights the importance of better examining the ways in which the strengths and weaknesses of all these factors influence one another in order to proactively reduce or eliminate risks.

Relevant international bodies worked together to develop clear and accessible explanations of the principles and criteria for radiation protection so that decision makers and the public could more easily understand their application. A better communication strategy is needed to convey the justification for such measures and actions to all stakeholders, including the public, the Report concluded.

It is also relevant to point out that, in spite of the magnitude of the accident in which three nuclear cores melted, no radiation-induced health effects were observed among workers or members of the public that could be attributed to the accident. This is in line with the conclusions that the independent United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) reported to the United Nations General Assembly in the years following the accident.

The Fukushima Daiichi accident underlined the vital importance of effective international cooperation on nuclear safety, and the IAEA is where most of that cooperation now takes place. As a result, the Report’s recommendations have since been incorporated into national regulations, international safety standards and corresponding IAEA Safety Guides.

The Agency continues to analyse the relevant technical aspects of the Fukushima Daiichi accident and to share and disseminate lessons learned to the wider nuclear community. It will continue to support its Member States in implementing these lessons learned and will consider conducting any appropriate follow-up reviews of the implementation of these measures. The completion of the Report does not mean that our work is done — the IAEA’s efforts in the formulation of its nuclear safety strategy must and will continue. It is essential that the IAEA maintain and build upon this momentum to strengthen global nuclear safety.



March, 2021
Vol. 62-1

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