U.S. Statement to the IAEA Board of Governors: Nuclear Safety

IAEA Board of Governors, March 5, 2018

IAEA Board of Governors Meeting

March 5-9, 2018

 

Agenda Item Number 2(a) and 2(b)

Strengthening the Agency’s Activities Related to Nuclear, Radiation, Transport and Waste Safety: Nuclear Safety Review 2018

Draft Safety Requirements: Regulations for the Safe Transport of Radioactive Material 2018 Edition

 

Ruthenium-106

 

U.S. Statement as delivered by U.S. Chargé d’affaires a.i. Nicole Shampaine

 

Thank you, Mr. Chair,

The annual Nuclear Safety Review serves as a good reminder of the scope and value of activities undertaken to strengthen nuclear, radiation, transport, and waste safety. The United States is grateful for the collective expertise of IAEA Member States, including national regulatory agencies, technical support organizations, academic institutions, and private industry, that supports the broad array of safety-related work. We sincerely appreciate the international commitment to the activities described in the Nuclear Safety Review and we are proud to share in these accomplishments.

 

The United States also takes this opportunity to thank the Director General and the Secretariat for their preparation of the Nuclear Safety Review 2018 as circulated to the Board of Governors in document GOV/2018/4. Taken together 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.

 

Although the Nuclear Safety Review accurately describes the wide range of activities undertaken in accordance with the Agency’s mandate and priorities defined by Member States, the United States encourages the Secretariat to take steps to improve the coherence of the document, to further streamline the priorities, and to reflect on the effectiveness of completed activities.

 

In terms of coherence, we believe that the trends described in the Safety Review should have clear references to the sources of data from which the trends are drawn. The priorities in the Safety Review also should have clear associations to both the trends and the General Conference Resolutions on Measures to strengthen international cooperation in nuclear, radiation, transport and waste safety, one of the documents from which the Agency derives its annual priorities. Furthermore, the activities listed in the Safety Review should have clear connections to the previous year’s priorities. We believe that these steps will help create a more coherent document with greater clarity on the Agency’s accomplishments and areas of greater focus during the coming year.

 

Developing a mechanism for reflecting on the effectiveness of the Agency’s actions is vital to the Nuclear Safety Review’s evolution into a strategic document. For example, besides Canada’s recent ratification of the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage, there has been no appreciable change in the number of countries joining any convention on third-party liability for nuclear damage, and almost 80 nuclear power plants worldwide still do not fall under any liability convention. Yet, the actions taken by the Secretariat to establish a global liability regime remain roughly the same as they were in 2017. Consequently, it is clear that the Secretariat needs to better focus its approach and intensify its efforts, consistent with the IAEA Action Plan on Nuclear Safety and the recommendations of the International Expert Group on Nuclear Liability.

 

We note with satisfaction the continued support the IAEA provides for safety-related Conventions. We also highlight the importance of ensuring that IAEA activities and priorities reflect the clear consensus view of Contracting Parties and are consistent with the outcomes of the Conventions’ review processes. Looking ahead, we draw your attention to the upcoming 6th Review Meeting of the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management and commend the Agency’s efforts in support of this important activity. We urge all Contracting Parties to participate fully in the next Review Meeting, and encourage all non-Party Member States to consider joining the Convention.

 

The United States would like to commend the IAEA for its efforts to coordinate globally with other international organizations that may share similarities in their mission and organizational objectives. In particular, we note the continued coordination between the IAEA and the World Association of Nuclear Operators, as well as the Nuclear Energy Agency. This close cooperation is essential in today’s budget-constrained environment. While progress has been demonstrated, the United States urges the Secretariat to continue strengthening its ties with these and other similar organizations to share experiences and avoid duplication of efforts. We encourage the IAEA to highlight areas of coordination with other international organizations in a separate section of the Nuclear Safety Review to increase the visibility of this good work, allow for a more holistic review of completed activities, and ensure a more effective use of resources.
Mr. Chair, with these remarks we endorse the Agency’s recommendation that the Board of Governors consider and take note of the Nuclear Safety Review 2018.

 

Mr. Chair, we also take this opportunity to support the approval of the Draft Safety Requirements for Regulations for the Safe Transport of Radioactive Material, 2018 Edition. After having drawn on international expertise and comments from Member States, being approved by each of the Safety Standards Committees, and receiving the endorsement from the Commission on Safety Standards, it is clear to this delegation that these Draft Safety Requirements are ready to be published in the IAEA Safety Standards Series.

 

Mr. Chair, to avoid taking the floor a second time under this agenda item, we would like to address one more safety topic.

 

Over 30 years ago, immediately following 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. To achieve this goal, the Convention established international notification systems to share information on events at nuclear facilities that have the potential for international transboundary release of radioactive material.

 

On behalf of the United States, we would like to express our gratitude to the IAEA for efforts undertaken to support implementation of the Convention, including the development of the Unified System for Information Exchange in Incidents and Emergencies, a system that allows IAEA Member States to exchange urgent information during nuclear and radiological incidents and emergencies.

 

Unfortunately, Mr. Chair, the international consensus that has long supported transparency during a nuclear or radiological incident or emergency now appears threatened. The United States has serious concerns with the unanswered questions surrounding the detection of ruthenium-106 throughout Europe last September.

 

An inherent responsibility in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy is a commitment to a high level of nuclear safety. We reaffirm that responsibility for safety rests with individual Member States having jurisdiction over nuclear facilities. This includes the responsibility to share timely information about events so that we may all learn from a Member State’s experience and benefit collectively from international cooperation.

 

Although potential health effects in Europe from this release appear to be negligible, this event has compelled us to remind the international community that transparency is an essential component of instilling public confidence about the safety of nuclear energy. Nuclear safety is the public’s business, and it must be conducted openly.

 

Ruthenium-106 is not a naturally occurring radioactive isotope. When it was detected last year, scientific agencies and media outlets around the world used words like ‘mysterious’ and ‘suspicious’ to describe its origin. Mr. Chair, if information regarding the isotopic release had been provided in a timely manner, it would have gone a long way toward mitigating the ‘mystery’ and ‘suspicion’ surrounding this event. The subsequent speculation about possible causes of this incident, followed by some dubious explanations of the isotope’s origin, resulted in confusion, concern for public health, and a greater skepticism about the peaceful uses of nuclear technology.

 

The international community is justified in expecting more information. The glaring lack of any explanation regarding the source, the extent, or the cause of this release of ruthenium-106 continues to cause concern and has the potential to erode public confidence in global nuclear commerce.

 

We urge the responsible Member State to, therefore, 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.

 

Thank you, Mr. Chair.