Fukushima Daiichi crisis: OECD & IAEA

Nuclear world confers

20 September 2011

Two international meetings in Europe in June have reinforced the desire of the nuclear industry to work together to respond to the lessons learned from the Fukushima Daiichi accident. In a separate development, the US nuclear industry, which operates a quarter of the world’s reactors, has created a formal organisation to respond to Fukushima Daiichi.

Representatives of 33 countries attended the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development’s Nuclear Energy Agency international ministerial meeting on nuclear safety on 7 June. The meeting focused mainly on regulators’ actions. A summary statement after the event said that the meeting had identified priority areas for regulatory review, including extreme external natural events and resilience to external shocks, combined risks, plant design and the ability of safety systems to withstand severe accidents, emergency response and management capabilities, crisis communication, and site recovery plans and their implementation.

The meeting supported the role of the NEA Committee on Nuclear Regulatory Activities (CNRA) as a forum to increase cooperation. Also, NEA standing technical committees including the Committee on the Safety of Nuclear Installations (CSNI) and the Committee on Radiation Protection and Public Health (CRPPH) were asked to carry out technical analyses. The French chair of the seminar, French minister for ecology, sustainable development, transport and housing, Natalie Kosciusko-Morizet, invited the IAEA to review its standards on the construction and operation of nuclear power plants in seismic zones, and on the consideration of the overall impact of climate-related events.

Two weeks later came the International Atomic Energy Agency’s week-long ministerial conference on nuclear safety, with speeches from officials including the IAEA director general, and the leader of the recent IAEA factfinding mission to Fukushima Daiichi and elsewhere [see photo caption].

An IAEA declaration made on behalf of ministers attending the conference emphasized the need to improve national, regional and international emergency preparedness and response to nuclear accidents.

Many proposals were made at the conference. According to published records, participants suggested that the IAEA:

  • Improve its safety standards in “design requirements, with particular emphasis on defence in depth; low-probability beyond-design-basis accidents, singly and in combination; and severe accident management for single-unit and, more especially, multi-unit sites, including extended loss of ultimate heat sink and essential supplies, hydrogen management, post-accident monitoring and safety of spent fuel storage”
  • Require IAEA review services (operational safety review team, emergency preparedness reviews) and integrated regulatory review service for all countries operating and constructing nuclear power plants, at a suggested rate of 44 plant reviews/year and a regulatory review every 10 years
  • Review and improve the International Nuclear Events Scale for radiological accidents
  • Broaden the role of the IAEA in response to a radiation emergency “to enable it to conduct analysis of emergency conditions, progression, possible scenarios for emergency development, consequences, associated radiological impact and response actions”
  • Integrate the data streams of nations’ real-time on-line radiation monitoring systems to function as an international early warning system
  • Require IAEA emergency preparedness/response standards be implemented in member states
  • Require greater independence of regulators in the Convention on Nuclear Safety
  • Develop guidance on (a) safety margins against extreme natural hazards, such as earthquakes, tsunamis and floods, and (b) the regulatory implications of the Fukushima accident.

IAEA director general Yukiya Amano will present a draft action plan to the IAEA board of governors in September. Some longer-term projects are aiming for an extraordinary meeting of the contracting parties of the Convention on Nuclear Safety planned for August 2012.

The USA’s Electric Power Research Institute, the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations and Nuclear Energy Institute have split up industry tasks to coordinate the US response to Fukushima, even though they admit that facts from the event are still coming in. This response is independent of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s own response.

The group has divided work into seven temporary organisations, each with a sponsoring association, overseen by a steering committee. The organisations cover a range of areas from communication strategy to R&D coordination.

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