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Director General's Opening Remarks at Meeting on Chernobyl

Vienna

Perhaps someone might think that there was a special thought behind convening the meeting a few days before the eighth anniversary of the accident at Unit 4 in the Chernobvl plant. I can assure you, however, that this is a pure coincidence. The timing of this meeting is rather linked to the Agency safety mission to Chernobyl which was organized a month ago - in mid-March.

As you know - and as will be reported in greater detail to this meeting - the safety review of the mission documented a large number of factors which affect the safety situation at the plant. The Agency will normally submit findings of its expert safety missions to the national nuclear safety authorities. In the present case the seriousness of the findings led me not only to do so but also to write a letter to the President of Ukraine, Mr. Kravchuk. I informed him of the conclusions that international levels of safety were not being met at the plant. And I suggested the desirability of convening an international meeting of the Ukraine with different interested parties for an exchange of views on what actions could be taken by the Ukraine itself and these other parties to remedy the precarious situation.

I am glad to say that President Kravchuk responded very promptly and positively to this proposal. The high-level delegation from the Ukraine here today demonstrates the importance that the Ukrainian Government is giving to the findings of the IAEA mission and also its eagerness to discuss the situation with representatives of interested States and organizations.

The Agency is not an international regulatory body. There is no such institution. The operators of nuclear plants, the national regulatory authorities and the national governments carry the responsibility for safety in nuclear installations in their territory. Yet there is unquestionably a strong international interest and legitimate international concern in the safety of nuclear installations anywhere. The Agency has a duty to be a forum for expressions of this interest and - sometimes - for co-ordinated action or the promotion of such action. It is not a mechanism for decisions on joint action but rather for exchange of knowledge and viewpoints. However these exchanges are not to be academic. They should promote informed action by the parties concerned.

Now let me continue my introduction by focussing on the case before us. Last October (1993) the Ukraine Parliament reversed a decision from two years earlier to permanently cease all power operations at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant by the end of 1993. In November last year the Agency's International Nuclear Safety Advisory Group called my attention to the safety implications of that reversal. Exchanges with Ukraine officials followed which resulted in the safety review mission which the Agency organized to Chernobyl in mid-March.

The review documented numerous safety shortcomings in the plant's two remaining operational units. Among these shortcomings are some well known problems in the design of the first generation RBMK Unit 1, which have not so far been dealt with. A number of factors which taken together severely reduce overall safety are equally troubling. Difficult working conditions and a serious loss of highly skilled personnel are major problems.

The economic situation of Ukraine has limited the procurement of modern equipment and has had a negative effect on the availability of spare parts.

The technically confirmed accelerated deterioration of the shelter enclosing the destroyed Unit 4 reactor has added a unique element to the safety situation.

Some of the factors which afflict Chernobyl affect other plants with RBMK-type reactors in a similar way. However, in the case of Chernobyl, these factors taken together lead to a safety situation which is more troubling than anywhere else.

I said that in calling today's meeting the Agency is primarily providing a forum for exchange of information with a view to informed action, rather than joint decisions. To make informed decision and to take informed action, the Ukrainian and other governments as well as international organizations, banks and groupings will need to understand not only the technical safety issues but also other factors that influence the situation. I have in mind the overall energy and economic circumstances in the Ukraine, including the scope for energy conservation, and the status of nuclear plants under construction. The meeting will be successful if it can help the Government of Ukraine to define more precisely when the two plants operated at Chernobyl are no longer, in its view, indispensible to the economy of the country.

Such definition and decision by the Government of Ukraine is no doubt in part influenced by actions and decisions that will be taken by other governments and institutions. Conversely the actions and decisions by these governments and institutions are influenced by the decisions of the Ukrainian Government. Hence the need for exchange of information about data and about where interested parties stand and what action options they see.

May I conclude by urging you to be both frank and creative in defining roads to remedies of the difficult situation at Chernobyl. This situation is a terrible burden for the Ukraine. The Ukraine is entitled to look for constructive attitudes among other countries and other countries are looking to the Ukraine for constructive action.

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Last update: 26 Nov 2019

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