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Introductory Statement to Board of Governors

Vienna, Austria

Mr. Chairman,

This special meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors is taking place because of the serious accident which occurred at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan on Friday, 11 March 2011, after a huge earthquake and tsunami.

I would like once again to offer my sincere condolences to the people of Japan over this devastating natural disaster and to express my profound gratitude to you for the warm words which have been addressed to me.

The crisis has still not been resolved and the situation at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant remains very serious. In addition, high levels of contamination have been measured in the locality of the plant.

I fully understand the worries of millions of people, in Japan and neighbouring countries in Asia but also further afield, about the possible dangers to human health, environmental contamination and risks to foodstuffs. The Agency is doing all it can to provide accurate and factual information. I have confidence that the Japanese government will address public concerns properly.

The Agency is working at full stretch, together with other countries and international organizations, to help Japan bring the crisis to an end and ensure the effects are mitigated as much as possible.

And I have no doubt that this crisis will be effectively overcome. Nature can be cruel. But human beings are brave, resourceful and resilient, as the people affected by the tsunami have shown in the last 10 days.

I know I speak for all of you when I pay tribute to the immense courage of the emergency response teams who have been battling under extremely difficult circumstances to make the reactors safe.

It is difficult for us here in Vienna to imagine the conditions in which they are working. The site has been seriously damaged by flood water and is littered with debris. Buildings have been damaged by explosions. There has, for the most part, been no electric power. Radiation levels are elevated. It is no exaggeration to describe the work of the emergency teams as heroic.

I also pay tribute to you, the IAEA Board of Governors, and to all IAEA Member States. You have been swift and generous in making available equipment and expertise. The unity and solidarity that have been demonstrated are in the finest traditions of the IAEA.

Mr. Chairman,

As I informed you last week, the IAEA Incident and Emergency Centre was activated immediately after we received news of the earthquake and tsunami. It has been working around the clock since then, in constant communication with our counterparts in Japan and other countries.

Since last Monday, my colleagues and I have provided daily briefings to you on the situation at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

We have also briefed the media every day so that the public are kept informed.

We have been guided in our work by the relevant conventions, which require us to ensure timely exchange of authenticated and verified official information between the affected country and other States, and to coordinate international assistance, upon request.

But we have done more.

Last Thursday, I flew to Tokyo for high-level consultations on how best the Agency can help. In the space of a few hours, I met Prime Minister Naoto Kan, Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto and Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Banri Kaieda.

I also had meetings with senior officials from the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) - the operator of the Fukushima nuclear power plant - and the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA).

My main message was: "You are not alone." I said that Japan faced a very serious situation but could count on the full support of the international community - both practical and moral - in overcoming it.

I stressed that people all over the world are concerned about the possible consequences of the accident. I encouraged the Japanese authorities to further improve the provision of information to the Agency. I pledged our full support and conveyed offers of assistance to Japan made by more than a dozen other countries through the Agency.

My message was well received. Prime Minister Kan expressed his strong commitment to ensuring the highest transparency in information sharing and said every effort would be made to improve the collection and provision of information.

The Japanese government appreciated our offer of support and the radiation monitoring team which accompanied me began work immediately.

I am grateful to the Economy, Trade and Industry Minister and the Foreign Minister for agreeing to send a senior NISA official to Vienna to address the technical briefing at 3 pm this afternoon.

I welcome Mr Koichiro Nakamura, Deputy Director General in charge of international affairs at NISA, to the Board of Governors and thank him for making the time to come here in the middle of a major crisis.

During my visit, the Agency's on-the-ground support to Japan became operational. It consists of three main elements.

First, a senior Agency official has been deployed in Japan to coordinate our assistance activities.

Second, the Japanese authorities agreed to the designation of two IAEA liaison officers, now in place, who are working closely with NISA 24 hours per day.

Third, the Agency's radiation monitoring team has begun sending back measurements to Vienna, including from locations close to the Fukushima site. Additional staff will fly out from Vienna shortly to strengthen the team.

Since the accident, I have tried to address some widespread misconceptions in the media about the IAEA's role in nuclear safety. These misunderstandings fuelled some criticism of the Agency's response, which was not always justified.

I explained that we are not a "nuclear safety watchdog" and that responsibility for nuclear safety lies with our Member States. The IAEA acts as a hub for international cooperation, helping to establish safety standards and providing expert advice on best practice. But, in contrast to the Agency's role in nuclear non-proliferation, nuclear safety measures are applied voluntarily by each individual country and our role is supportive.

Mr. Chairman,

Since this crisis began, the IAEA, as you would expect, has worked closely with our major international partners.

I have been in close contact with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to ensure effective coordination among different organizations. I have also consulted with WHO Director-General Margaret Chan and with the Secretary General of the World Meteorological Organization.

Day-to-day contacts continue at the working level with all relevant organizations. A specialist from WMO joined our team in the Incident and Emergency Centre and we are deploying the in-house expertise on radiation contamination of foodstuffs provided by the FAO-IAEA Joint Division.

I am grateful to the Executive Secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization, Tibor Toth, for promptly granting our request for access to data from its radionuclide monitoring stations.

Mr. Chairman,

At this stage, the priority remains stabilizing the nuclear reactors and restoring safety. The 5th Review Meeting of the Contracting Parties to the Convention on Nuclear Safety next month will provide a first formal opportunity to consider lessons learned.

But I believe one lesson is already clear: the current international emergency response framework needs to be reassessed. It was designed largely in the wake of the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, before the information revolution. It reflects the realities of the 1980s, not of the 21st century.

The speed at which information now travels, and the huge volume of information in public circulation, are among the most significant changes since then. Live television and the internet provide constant updates on a crisis situation - not always accurately - to a global audience.

The responsibility of the IAEA is to provide authoritative and validated information as quickly as possible, but doing this under the current arrangements inevitably takes time and has limitations.

Nuclear power will remain an important and viable option for many countries as a stable and clean source of energy. Some countries are reviewing their plans in the light of Fukushima. The Agency's role in nuclear safety may need to be re-examined, along with the role of our Safety Standards. It is already clear that arrangements for putting international nuclear experts in touch with each other quickly during a crisis need to be improved.

As I said, the most important thing right now is to restore the safety of the affected reactors. Lessons will need to be learned and the IAEA is where that discussion should take place. A thorough review of the accident will be necessary, in which peer review will have an important role to play.

Mr. Chairman,

I reiterate that the situation at Fukushima remains serious, but we are starting to see some positive developments.

The emergency teams at the site have never lost hope and have not given up. Neither has the IAEA.

The Agency will continue to do everything in its power to help Japan to overcome the Fukushima crisis and deal effectively with the aftermath. I ask the Board for its continuing support.

Thank you.


Last update: 25 Nov 2019

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