U.S. on Nuclear Safety at the IAEA BoG, Agenda Item 2(a) & (b)

IAEA Board of Governors Room

Statement Under Agenda Item 2(a) & (b): Strengthening the Agency’s Activities Related to Nuclear, Radiation, Transport and Waste Safety: Nuclear Safety Review 2018 and Draft Safety Requirements: Regulations for the Safe Transport of Radioactive Material 2018 Edition

As delivered by Ambassador Jackie Wolcott at the IAEA Board of Governors Meeting
Vienna, March 4, 2019

Thank you, Madam Chair.

The United States takes this opportunity to thank the Director General and Secretariat for their preparation of the Nuclear Safety Review 2019 as circulated to the Board of Governors in document GOV/2019/3. In conjunction with the Agency’s Medium-Term Strategy and Programme and Budget documents, we consider the Nuclear Safety Review to be an effective vehicle for communicating progress and priorities for the next year. We believe the Nuclear Safety Review has the needed flexibility to respond to Member State feedback and to adjust priorities on an annual basis.

The United States commends the Agency for the many efforts to improve nuclear safety worldwide. We encourage Member States to continue to utilize the Agency’s expertise, as well as the collective expertise of the international community, through peer review services and technical advisory missions. In the spirit of transparency, we encourage our fellow Member States to publish the results of peer review missions. With a view to continually improving the quality and responsiveness of its activities, we encourage the Secretariat to consider carefully Member State feedback as part of conducting future missions.

Madam Chair, in order to optimize its support of Member States, we encourage the Secretariat to continue to improve its internal coordination, both within and across departments. Taking steps to further improve coordination can maximize the investments of Member States and enable the Agency to broaden the reach of its services, further strengthening nuclear safety globally. We encourage the Secretariat to use the Nuclear Safety Review’s priorities to highlight opportunities to enhance its coordination processes, thereby further advancing transparency and strategic planning. We would also like to take this opportunity to underscore the importance of the Agency continuing to coordinate with Member States before initiating new activities. In today’s environment, resources are increasingly scarce and needs are progressively greater so it is imperative that the Agency undertake high impact work in response to Member States needs and requests.

The United States applauds the sustained support of the IAEA to the safety-related conventions. We are already looking forward to two important events taking place in 2020: the Eighth Review Meeting of the Convention on Nuclear Safety and the Fourth Extraordinary Meeting of the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management. We commend the Agency’s work in support of these two meetings and urge all Contracting Parties to participate fully. As always, we encourage non-Party Member States, particularly those that operate nuclear power plants, to join the conventions.

Madam Chair, please allow me to use this occasion also to recognize Ramzi Jammal and his positive leadership of the Seventh Review Meeting of the Convention on Nuclear Safety. The United States congratulates him on a successful presidency and wishes incoming Czech president Ms. Dana Drabova a very productive and fruitful tenure. We look forward to working with you.

With these remarks we endorse the Agency’s recommendation that the Board of Governors consider and take note of the Nuclear Safety Review 2019. In anticipation of the next agenda item, we also take this opportunity to support the approval of the Draft Safety Requirements on Site Evaluation for Nuclear Installations. The Draft Safety Requirements, having drawn on international expertise and comments from Member States, being approved by each of the standing Safety Standards Committees, and receiving an endorsement from the Commission on Safety Standards, appear to this delegation to be ready to be established as an Agency safety standard and published in the Safety Standards Series.

Madam Chair, to avoid taking the floor a second time under this agenda item, we would like to address one more safety topic. For the third time in this Board Room, the United States feels compelled to remind Member States of the unanswered questions surrounding the detection of ruthenium-106 throughout Europe in 2017.

Although potential health effects from this incident are uncertain, this event reminds the international community that transparency is an essential component of instilling public confidence about the safety of nuclear energy. More than a year later, the conspicuous lack of explanation regarding the source, the extent, or the cause of this radioactive release continues to cause confusion and a greater skepticism about the peaceful uses of nuclear technology.

As IAEA Member States, we share a common interest in assuring the global public that nuclear and radiation activities are conducted safely. We want to acknowledge the laudable efforts of Member States to find explanations, including last month’s workshop, convened by our colleagues from the United Kingdom, to discuss ideas for improving transparency and information sharing in international nuclear safety. This important workshop highlights the global community’s interest in promoting openness for nuclear safety.

Nonetheless, we remain concerned that no state has come forward to share information about this radioactive release. Forty-four IAEA Member States detected ruthenium-106 and numerous media outlets and public organizations inquired about it. For over a year, IAEA Member States have participated in meetings and workshops and negotiated resolution language to address this lack of transparency. The Secretariat has used precious resources to provide technical briefings and compile data submitted to the Incident and Emergency Center. This may have been an event of no safety consequence, but the lack of transparency has been a significant distraction from other safety priorities and a drain on the Agency’s limited resources.

Madam Chair, in previous statements to this Board, we have urged the responsible Member State to identify itself, investigate this matter thoroughly, and share the results of the investigation with the IAEA so that the international community can learn from
this event. More than a year after this event, however, no new information has been provided. We, therefore, feel obligated to share our assessment of this incident.

The United States analyzed reported measurements of ruthenium-106 and used atmospheric dispersion computer modeling tools to estimate the location and quantity of radioactivity released. Our conclusion is that the likely origin of the radioactivity is in Russia. Other independent analyses agree with our assessment and are publicly available.

Madam Chair, in response to the Chernobyl accident, the international community unanimously adopted the Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident.

Parties to this Convention commit to share information regarding events at their nuclear facilities in a transparent and holistic manner. Protecting and preserving an international consensus that has long supported transparency during a nuclear or
radiological incident or emergency is a common interest shared by all Member States. In the spirit of international cooperation, it is our sincere hope that this essential commitment to transparency will be restored and that we can bring discussion regarding the potential source of this particular case to a close.

Thank you, Madam Chair.