Nuclear Safety

IAEA Board of Governors Meeting
March 4-8, 2013

Agenda Item 3

Strengthening the Agency’s Activities related to Nuclear, Radiation, Transport, and Waste Safety

U.S. Statement

Ambassador Joseph Macmanus

United States Permanent Representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency

Vienna, Austria
March 4, 2013

Mr. Chairman,

As this is my first time attending an IAEA Board of Governors meeting, I would like to than the other Governors for their warm welcome.  I look forward to working with the Board and the Agency, including in strengthening the global nuclear safety framework.

Mr. Chairman,

The United States would like to take this opportunity to thank the Director General and the Secretariat for their efforts spent to prepare for this meeting.  We have three important reports covered under this agenda item: the Nuclear Safety Review 2013, “Progress in the Implementation of the IAEA Action Plan on Nuclear Safety,” and a report on the Fukushima Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Safety.

The Nuclear Safety Review 2013, this year’s version of the annual safety report, cites the noteworthy progress the world nuclear community has made in strengthening nuclear safety in 2012.   One positive note is that an overwhelming majority of Member States with operating nuclear power plants have completed comprehensive safety assessments (“stress tests”) to evaluate design and safety aspects of plant robustness to protect against extreme events.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is moving forward to require safety improvements at U.S. nuclear power plants (NPPs) based on lessons learned from the Fukushima Dai-ichi accident.  The NRC has issued three orders to licensees to implement changes and to request information related to the Commission’s priority recommendations.  These orders consist of requirements for licensees to develop strategies and procure additional equipment to address beyond-design-basis natural phenomena resulting in a prolonged station blackout that affects all units at a site.  Licensees with boiling water reactors with Mark I or Mark II containments have also been ordered to have reliable hardened vents, and to install reliable spent fuel pool level instrumentation.

The United States affirms its commitment to a sound nuclear safety culture which includes independence, transparency, and effective communication in order to continue a systematic long-term approach to continuous improvement.   As stress tests are completed around the world, independent, well-skilled, and resourced regulators should be in a position to implement the lessons learned.  In regard to ageing NPPs, we recommend to other Member States to employ their stress tests and other in-depth reactor analyses to develop lessons learned for ageing plants.  All countries with power plants will thereby ensure that safety performance remains acceptable throughout the life of the plant and that transparency in communicating this to the public remains a focus for regulators.  Regarding research reactors, the United States has a robust regulatory program that includes reassessment and review of these reactors for continued safety, security, decommissioning, and emergency planning.

I would like to also highlight the work of the Commission on Safety Standards (CSS).  The CSS review of IAEA safety standards revealed no significant areas of weakness.  The international system of guidance continues to highlight and confirm the adequacy of existing safety standards used in civilian radiological and nuclear programs.

We are also very pleased with the development of the Strategies and Processes for the Establishment of IAEA Safety Standards which addressed interfaces between the IAEA Safety Standards Series publications and the Nuclear Security Series publications.  This action resulted in an interface group with balanced membership from the Safety Standards Committees and from the Nuclear Security Guidance Committee to review proposed publications that have safety-security interfaces.

Mr. Chairman,

With regard to the Convention on Nuclear Safety (CNS), the international community should promote and build upon the successes of the August 2012 Extraordinary Meeting.   CNS Contracting Parties should fully implement the revisions to the CNS guidelines that were adopted at the meeting.  If these revisions are not sufficient to enhance the operation of the CNS, additional revisions or amendments could be considered by the Contracting Parties.  In this regard, the United States notes that amending the CNS should be undertaken only if a strong case is made that a particular amendment is not only useful but that its intent cannot be met through other means.  The potential benefits must be weighed against the challenges of negotiating and bringing into force amendments to an existing convention with a large number of Contracting Parties.  The possibility of achieving the same benefits without amending the Convention should also be considered.

Concerning emergency preparedness and response, the United States notes that the Agency’s establishment of the Emergency Preparedness and Response (EPR) Expert Group is an excellent start to sharing lessons learned between countries.  This group will also be able to assist in providing advice to the Agency on actions needed to implement its EPR strategies, and to ensure coordinated enhancement of its EPR programs in years to come.

Mr. Chairman,

With respect to the December 2012 Fukushima Ministerial meeting, we commend Japan for this contribution to strengthening nuclear safety worldwide by providing an opportunity to share with the international community lessons learned.  We would like to further commend the Government of Japan for consulting with the international community as it developed plans for its new Nuclear Regulation Authority.  The United States strongly believes that an independent and transparent regulatory agency with adequate resources is essential for ensuring the safety and security of all civilian nuclear programs.  More generally, it is important to note that governments as a whole must make nuclear safety a top, permanent priority so that the burden of responsibility does not fall to regulators alone.  After all, nuclear safety is a shared responsibility.  As was discussed at the Ministerial, while the international community has worked collectively towards enhancing nuclear safety through analyses, stress tests, and technical upgrades to plants, its challenge is to make the transition from short- to long-term activities to ensure sustainability in the years to come.  With that in mind, the United States looks forward to the comprehensive IAEA report in 2014 on the Fukushima Dai-chi accident.  We also hope that efforts will be taken to integrate the Action Plan activities into the existing long-term nuclear safety programs of the IAEA.  The United States remains an extremely strong supporter of the Action Plan, and welcomes efforts by the Agency and Member States to promote its implementation.

Again, the United States expresses its gratitude to the Agency for the documents provided under this agenda item and looks forward to further progress in nuclear safety in the year to come.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.