Russia calls for international standards

25 May 2011

Russia is to call for the harmonization of nuclear safety standards as well as an international protocol for managing nuclear accidents.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is to put forward a number of proposals to improve international legislation on the safety of nuclear power stations at the up-and-coming G8 summit in Deauville, France, which will take place on 26-27 May.

One of initiatives he will propose includes a responsibility for the state to provide a timely response to the accident and better cooperation between the government, nuclear regulators and operators.

Speaking during a press conference organized by RIA Novosti on 24 May, deputy director general of Rosenergoatom, Vladimir Asmolov, said that the recent events at Fukushima Daiichi had highlighted ‘mistakes by the government and operator.’

Asmolov said that the responsibility for managing the accident should have been transferred to the state sooner. Operator TEPCO was initially left to deal with the problems cooling the reactors using its own capacity, but it had insufficient manpower and equipment to do so, another Russian expert Kirill Komarov, deputy director general of Rosatom said. It was only when the prime minister assumed responsibility for the crisis that sufficient resources such as military trucks, helicopters and fire brigades arrived at the Fukushima site. This should have happened sooner according to Komarov.

Medvedev will also suggest additional requirements preventing the construction of nuclear power plants in seismically active regions, or areas where natural disaster is possible. In Russia, nuclear power plants cannot be built in areas where a Magnitude-8 earthquake is possible, such as Kamchatka in Russia’s far east, where earthquakes and tsunamis are fairly common.

Another area for discussion will be the International Nuclear Events Scale (INES). Currently it is left up to the state to decide on the level of the accident. Russia is to suggest a more scale with better-defined criteria. In addition, Medvedev will suggest rules outlining the information that must be provided for each level of accident.

Rosenergoatom’s Vladimir Asmolov said that international inspections of Russian nuclear power plants carried out by the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) prior to Fukushima had identified ‘a very high level of emergency preparedness’ and ‘major investments in additional safety provisions.’

But the review also identified shortcomings. Asmolov said that one weakness related to the rotation of personnel between the country’s nuclear power plants. It’s common practice in the West for experts to work at a variety of nuclear units, but not in Russia. Asmolov said that this might be changed in future. There are plans for the report to be made public.

Amolov said that Rosenergoatom has no plans to accelerate the replacement of its older reactors with new reactor designs with passive safety features, such as the VVER-1200. He said that the safety evaluation of existing plants is an ongoing process, and that as soon as a unit cannot be upgraded to meet the required safety standards it will not be allowed to continue operation. Russia has already retired four of its first generation units (Novovoronezh-1&2 VVERs and Beloyarsk 1&2 RBMKs) and is considering whether to allow other first generation units at Kola, Novovoronezh and Bilibino to continue operating. In general most Russian units have very high safety standards Asmolov said.

Despite the explosions at the spent fuel pool at Fukushima Daiichi unit 4, Asmolov said that Russia had no plans to change its plans for management of used fuel. Fuel will remain in wet storage until it has cooled sufficiently to be transferred into dry storage.

Meanwhile, Japanese prime minister Naoto Kan said in his pre-summit speech that Japan is “committed to sharing… with the international community the lessons learned from the nuclear accident, which will be conducive to enhancing safety of nuclear facilities around the world.”

Japan had also decided to extend cooperation with China and the Republic of Korea. Kan said: “We decided to promote discussions among our experts on the strengthening of safety of nuclear power generation against natural disasters. Their discussions will be made on safety regulations, emergency preparedness, emergency response measures and other safety related issues.”

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