Nuclear Power International Safety Meeting Termed a Success

VIENNA, Austria, April 25, 2005 (ENS) - The majority of countries operating nuclear power plants concluded a two week peer review meeting Friday on the Convention on Nuclear Safety with a tight-lipped media briefing that emphasized success of the process. The conference held at headquarters of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, opened April 11 with 51 of the 56 contracting parties to the Convention in attendance.

This month India became the latest country to ratify the pact, bringing the number of ratifying countries to 56. All of the world's 441 nuclear power plants now are operating in countries where the Nuclear Safety Convention is in force.

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Nuclear power plant in Rajasthan, India (Photo courtesy Nuclear Power Corp of India Ltd)
The meeting was closed to the media, and the only statement offered was at a briefing Friday. Linda Keen, president of the meeting and head of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, said that the meeting had "successfully completed its process."

A comprehensive, 93 paragraph summary report, outlining what was discussed and reported during the two week meeting, is in the process of being finalized, Keen said.

She did say that discussions had touched on the possible role of the Convention with respect to research reactors.

Keen said the Convention has decided to request IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei to convene meetings with member states to discuss how best to assure the effective application of the Code of Conduct on the Safety of Research Reactors. This code was approved by the IAEA General Conference in 2004.

The Convention noted the positive contributions of international organizations and regulatory bodies to the international safety culture, Keen said. Safety initiatives in international organizations like the IAEA, as well as safety and peer review processes, have helped improve overall safety culture on a facility to facility basis, she said.

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Conference Chair and President of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission Linda Keen addresses the concluding press briefing. (Photo by D. Calma courtesy IAEA)
While giving few details of international discussions over the past two weeks, Keen did offer insights into Canada's nuclear security posture in a presentation to the IAEA International Conference on Nuclear Security in London on March 17.

"The terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001 challenged traditional approaches to security and transformed views of risk all over the world, and especially in North America," Keen said.

"The security of nuclear facilities was brought under increased scrutiny and attention on September 11th 2001, and in the 3 years since the security enhancements that have been put in place have become the new norm," she said.

Keen focused on two key ideas, both contained in Canada's Nuclear Security Policy. First, "The complex threat environment we are facing evolves continuously. Therefore, the system we build needs to be capable of responding proportionately to existing threats while adapting quickly to meet new threats that may emerge.

Second, she said, "While we strive to eliminate these threats, this is not always possible. Strengthening our security is also about managing and reducing risks.

Parties to the Convention on Nuclear Safety meet every three years. The 10 year old treaty is an international agreement that commits participating countries to maintain a high level of safety in the operation and regulation of nuclear power plants.

The catalyst for the Convention was the 1986 Chernobyl accident in Ukraine, when global implications of nuclear safety were magnified and interest intensified in internationally binding safety standards.

Nearly 8.4 million people in Belarus, Ukraine and Russia were exposed to radiation when the Chernobyl plant caught fire and exploded. Beyond the cancers and chronic health problems, especially among children, some 150,000 kilometers - an area half the size of Italy - were contaminated, according to the United Nations, while agricultural areas covering nearly 52,000 square kilometers, more than the size of Denmark, were ruined.