Chernobyl: Safety High Priority for IAEA
As the world moves closer to marking the 15th anniversary of the Chernobyl accident this April, the IAEA is opening a new phase of its longstanding technical assistance in safety, environmental, and other fields.
Following the closure of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in December 2000, the IAEA is giving high priority to new projects that will assist the country to take the plant out of service and to manage its radioactive waste safely.
The new projects are the latest examples of the Agency's involvement in key phases of Chernobyl's life since the plant's catastrophic accident in April 1986. All told, IAEA Chernobyl assistance since then is valued at more than US$ 7 million.
- Shortly after the accident, in early May 1986, the IAEA Director General visited the Chernobyl plant, laying the groundwork for the world's first authoritative review of the accident at an international meeting at the IAEA in August 1986.
- In October 1989, the IAEA coordinated an international study of the accident's radiation, environmental and health consequences. Between March 1990 and June 1991, a total of 50 field missions were conducted by 200 experts from 25 countries, seven organizations, and eleven laboratories.
- In April 1996, the IAEA co-sponsored with the World Health Organization and the European Commission an international conference that summed up Chernobyl's consequences one decade after the accident. More than 800 experts from 71 countries and 20 organizations attended.
- The IAEA has spent more than $3 million since 1990 to study the social and human impact of the accident's aftermath. Special attention has been devoted to rehabilitation and other projects in Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia, such as the establishment of radiation monitoring centers and reclamation of contaminated farm lands.
The plant's new phase -- decommissioning -- will involve a series of steps over a multi-year period. The Agency's assistance will include engineering and managerial advice for proper planning and implementation of the decommissioning project, which involves three units of the RBMK type. The project itself is being carried out by a new enterprise being established by the Ukrainian Government, and is expected to cover activities related to decontamination of buildings, soil, and water, and to the removal of spent nuclear fuel from the units, a task expected to take about a decade.
Other new IAEA projects in Ukraine address the safe management of radioactive waste, nuclear plant safety services, and energy planning. The range of assistance includes analysis of sound waste processing technologies and disposal options, and support for the proper management of fuel containing radioactive material. One new project has been launched in support of efforts at the sarcophagus, or shelter, encasing the fourth Chernobyl unit, which was destroyed in the 1986 accident. Another project is keyed to strengthening the effectiveness of Ukraine's nuclear regulatory regime, and for the provision of safety services to help upgrade the safety of the country's remaining operational nuclear power plants in line with internationally accepted safety standards.
Safety Steps Welcomed
The new Ukraine projects are part of the Agency's technical cooperation programme for 2001-02, which has been approved by the IAEA Board of Governors. IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei underlined the importance of the steps.
"The IAEA has always paid great attention to providing assistance to Ukraine with regard to the safe and reliable operation of its nuclear power plants, and with regard to overcoming the consequences of the Chernobyl accident," the Director General said. "We remain ready to assist Ukrainian authorities to safely decommission the Chernobyl units as much as our resources allow."
Dr. ElBaradei pointed out that Agency is seeking additional funds to supplement the limited amount on hand for the IAEA's technical programmes. Extra funds would be used, he said, to continue other planned Chernobyl-related activities. These include the monitoring of radioactivity levels in foodstuffs in areas most heavily affected by the Chernobyl accident, and support for establishment of a training centre for radio-ecology in Ukraine that would help create new job and training opportunities for staff from the closed Chernobyl plant.
The Director General -- who visited Ukraine, and the Chernobyl plant, in August 2000 for talks with governmental leaders on matters including nuclear safety -- said that the Agency noted with satisfaction that Ukraine's decision to close the plant responded to international safety concerns. He said it was an encouraging sign to see the country's nuclear policy place high importance on safety considerations in its requests for Agency technical assistance. He further announced that the IAEA's Deputy Director General for Nuclear Safety, Mr. Zygmund Domaratzki, will be attending the planned ceremony for the Chernobyl closure on 15 December in Ukraine.
At the IAEA on 7 December 2000, Ukraine officials presented a briefing on aspects of the Chernobyl plant's closure. The briefing was given by Mr. Olexander Smyshliaiev, Deputy Minister for Environment and Natural Resources and Head of the Nuclear Regulatory Department, and Mr. Vadim Gryschenko, Deputy Head of the Nuclear Regulatory Department.
In reaffirming the closure of the Chernobyl plant, Mr. Smyshliaiev welcomed the IAEA Board's approval of the new technical assistance projects. He emphasized, however, that the work ahead is "massive" in scope and Ukraine remains heavily reliant on financial support from the global community, both with respect to ensuring alternative sources of electricity supply and the safe decommissioning of the plant. He said that the Ukrainian Parliament, during hearings recently on the Chernobyl closure, appealed to all countries for funding to support these efforts. Estimates are that the first phase of decommissioning the three units, projected over a 5-year horizon, would cost about $85 million per year, with tasks mainly focused on removal of wastes and nuclear fuel.
Regarding the plant closure's social impact, Mr. Smyshliaiev said that about 10,000 Chernobyl workers would be left jobless by the plant's closure. Ukraine's Parliament had budgeted some funds for retraining and other social needs, he said, but the scope of expected demands would require Information
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