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Joint Convention on Spent Fuel and Radioactive Waste Safety Celebrates 20th Anniversary


Participants celebrated the adoption of the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management on the side-lines of the 61st IAEA General Conference. (Photo: NSRW/IAEA)

Delegates from IAEA Member States celebrated the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management at an event on the side-lines of the 61st IAEA General Conference on Monday.

In his opening remarks, Juan Carlos Lentijo, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Nuclear Safety and Security, thanked all Contracting Parties to the Joint Convention. “The Convention has contributed to a higher level of safety worldwide in the management of radioactive waste and spent fuel, and it will continue to do so in the future,” he said. “This is what we celebrate today.” 

The goal of the Convention, which is the only legally binding international instrument to address on a global scale the safety of spent fuel and radioactive waste management, is to achieve and maintain a high level of safety worldwide in spent fuel and radioactive waste management through ensuring the availability of effective defences against potential hazards, preventing radiological accidents and mitigating their consequences should they occur.

Through a peer review process that takes place every three years, Contracting Parties exchange national reports on how they meet their obligations under the Convention and discuss continuous improvement to the peer review process.

Countries’ views

Representatives from Canada, Japan, Finland, Ghana and Cuba shared their experiences, highlighting the role of the Convention as a global instrument for safely managing radioactive waste.

Ramzi Jammal, Executive Vice-President and Chief Regulatory Officer at the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, stressed that nuclear safety is a global responsibility.

“We need to demonstrate that we are the global champions for the safety of radioactive waste and spent fuel to the same rigor as security and safeguards,” he said. “Among the ways to achieve this is to commit to international peer reviews, publish reports and findings and encourage transparency and openness.”

Jammal described how peer reviews and structured self-assessment have helped Canada evaluate the adequacy of its safety measures. He also highlighted that the Convention provides an international forum for cooperation between regulators and the industry, where knowledge about decommissioning strategies and deep geological repositories can be gained.

Jussi Heinonen, Director for Nuclear Waste and Material Regulation in Finland’s Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority, said the Convention’s self-assessment process and peer review mechanism have been useful for enhancing the safety of Finland’s management of radioactive waste and spent fuel. Finland is constructing the world’s first underground disposal facility for spent fuel and high-level radioactive waste.

“The Joint Convention process has enhanced the development of a national framework, an effective regulatory system and the establishment of a national waste management programme,” he said.

The Convention and its peer review process were also beneficial to Ghana, said Benjamin Nyarko, Director-General of Ghana’s Atomic Energy Commission.

“The peer review process has provided Ghana with an opportunity to learn from countries with advanced nuclear programmes,” he said. “It gave important insight into the strengths and weaknesses of the overall radioactive waste management programme.”

Alba Guillén Campos, Director of Cuba’s National Center for Nuclear Safety, stressed the relevance of the Convention to her country, which is using radiation sources in medicine, industry, agriculture, research and education. Cuba is new to the Convention and is preparing its first national report for the Sixth Review Meeting of the Contracting Parties, to be held in May 2018 in Vienna.

In closing the meeting, Peri Lynne Johnson, Legal Advisor and Director of the IAEA’s Office of Legal Affairs, presented the various tools that the IAEA uses to assist those States that have not yet adhered to or implemented the Convention, as well as the promotional activities designed to encourage membership.

“We should aim to ensure that [the Joint Convention] becomes universal in its adherence and implementation,” Johnson said, adding that it continues to evolve as a result of the peer-review process.

The Convention was adopted in September 1997 and entered into force in June 2001. It has 75 Contracting Parties. This number will increase to 76 once the treaty enters into force in Cuba in October.

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