UN Nuclear Agency Calls High-level Meeting on Japanese Power Plant Crisis

NEW YORK–(ENEWSPF)–28 March 2011 – The head of the United Nations agency that coordinates global nuclear safety today called for a high-level conference within three months to strengthen safety measures and emergency responses in light of the Japanese power plant crisis.

“The Fukushima crisis has confronted the agency and international community with a major challenge,” UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Yukiya Amano told a news briefing at the agency’s headquarters in Vienna, referring to the earthquake- and tsunami-stricken nuclear power plant that has been spewing radioactive contamination into the environment since 11 March.

“It is vitally important that we learn the right lessons from what happened on March 11 and afterwards in order to strengthen nuclear safety throughout the world,” he said. “I would therefore like to propose that a high-level IAEA conference on nuclear safety should take place here in Vienna before the summer.”

Outlining the meeting’s agenda he cited an initial assessment of the accident, its impact and consequences; lessons that need to be learned; launching the process of strengthening nuclear safety; and strengthening the response to nuclear accidents in an emergency.

“The work ahead will be substantial. I firmly believe that the IAEA is the best venue for the follow-up on the Fukushima accident. We have the necessary expertise, extensive membership, and can assure transparency,” he said of the body, which has 151 Member States.

Mr. Amano noted that many countries had joined the call for robust follow-up action that he made at a meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors a week ago following his visit to Japan, in which he stressed the need to reassess the international emergency response framework for dealing with nuclear power plant accidents and to improve communications.

He said the situation remains very serious and IAEA is doing “everything in its power to help Japan,” with two radiation monitoring teams on the ground and a joint IAEA-UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) food safety team meeting with officials in affected prefectures.

“It will take some time to stabilize the reactors,” he added. “For now, radioactivity in the environment, foodstuff and water, including the sea, is a matter of concern in the vicinity of the Fukushima plant and beyond. Current levels indicate the need for further comprehensive monitoring. On the positive side electrical power has been restored at units one, two and three and fresh water is now available on the site.”

It was the destruction of power lines by the quake and tsunami and the subsequent failure of back-up diesel generators to pump in cooling water that caused the nuclear reactors to overheat and release radiation into the environment.

Before and during his visit to Japan Mr. Amano called for faster and fuller information on the crisis from the Japanese authorities and this has now improved.

“In a crisis of this nature it is vital to provide and share speedy and accurate information,” he said today. “My visit to Tokyo and the presence of IAEA staff on the ground have improved both the flow of information and the level of mutual understanding of a variety of technical issues. This has been an interactive process; as well as receiving information we have been asking questions, providing advice and obtaining clarifications.”

Last Friday, Mr. Amano joined in a video conference with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other agency heads to discuss the crisis and they will all be having further talks on the issue later this week in Nairobi, Kenya.

He will meet Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other agency heads in Kenya later this week at a regular meeting of the UN Chief Executives Board.