Nuclear technology will continue to play an integral role in securing energy and promoting socioeconomic development, delegates said Monday as the United Nations General Assembly discussed the 2011 report of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and adopted a resolution reaffirming “strong support” for its indispensable role.
Annu Tandon, Member of Parliament of India, was among those who stressed the importance of retaining the option of nuclear power despite the 2011 incident in Japan where the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was severely damaged during an earthquake and tsunami. “Nuclear energy played a crucial role in the sustainable economic growth” in India, she said, adding that her country was also developing nuclear technologies in such fields as crop improvement, radio-diagnosis and therapy for diseases, and provision of clean drinking water. There were currently 20 reactors operating in the country with an installed capacity of 4,780 megawatts and 7 under construction with a total capacity of 5,300 megawatts.
China was also among Member States expanding its nuclear power programme. Its representative said his country always adhered to the principle of “safety first”, having established a comprehensive legal and standards system, and a supervision framework on nuclear safety. The Government had also stepped up efforts in personnel training and technology research and development, keeping “a good track record” in nuclear safety.
Yet, with the number of nuclear reactors projected to rise over the next 20 years, Singapore’s delegate was among those who cautioned against complacency with regards to safety, describing the Fukushima incident “a wake-up call”. “It was a painful reminder that safety can never be taken for granted”, she said, calling for the full and effective implementation of the IAEA Action Plan on Nuclear Safety adopted in the aftermath of the accident.
She went on to point out that while the primary responsibility for nuclear safety rested with individual States, the far-reaching and potentially devastating transboundary impact of a nuclear accident meant that ensuring and strengthening nuclear safety standards were of concern to the international community as a whole, and in particular the IAEA. Singapore also encouraged the Agency to step up its capacity-building cooperation with regional organizations to promote and uphold standards of safety and security. In that regard, she said, good progress had been made on “ASEANTOM”, an initiative by Thailand, to establish a network of nuclear regulatory bodies among South-East Asian countries.
At the outset of today’s session, Member States were informed that due to the ongoing effects of Hurricane Sandy, which slammed the East coast of the United States last week, IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amamo was unable to travel to New York to deliver his annual statement on the Agency’s work. In his statement, circulated in the Assembly Hall but not read, Mr. Amano said: “Already, it is fair to say that nuclear power is safer than it was before the Fukushima Daiichi accident” thanks to the progress made on the implementation of the Action Plan.
As an example of post-disaster safety improvement, the European Union reviewed its responses to the Fukushima accident, including calls for comprehensive risk and safety assessments, or “stress tests”, to be conducted at European nuclear power plants, the bloc’s delegate said. The 17 national reports covered all nuclear power plants in the bloc and other participating countries, and had been assessed by over 80 reviewers from Europe and from several third party countries. The peer review report was transmitted to the June 2012 European Council meeting with an action plan agreed upon in July in order to follow the implementation of the recommendations of the report.
The European Commission would now examine possible evolutions of European legislation, notably the Nuclear Safety Directive, and submit them to Member States. In that vein, he added, the Convention on Nuclear Safety, the Conventions on Notification and Assistance, and the Joint Convention were instruments of major importance. The European Union called on all Member States which had not yet done so to become contracting parties to the relevant safety conventions without delay, and to implement the IAEA Action Plan on Nuclear Safety.
Japans’ delegate said that one and a half years after the earthquake that had severely damaged the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, his country was continuing clean-up efforts, including decontamination of stricken areas. He expressed his gratitude for the support and assistance of the international community. He then noted Japan’s contributions to the IAEA Action Plan on Nuclear Safety, including sharing lessons learned through two reports made to the Agency and the organization of the Fukushima Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Safety in Fukushima Prefecture, co-sponsored by the Agency, to be held in December. It was important for the international community to implement the Action Plan.
He said that Japan aimed to have a society that was not dependent on nuclear power by the 2030s and hoped to provide a model that would demonstrate a good balance between the shift toward green energy and economic growth. Japan would overcome the challenges posed by the accident, “benefitting widely from [the] wisdom of the world”, and, with the cooperation of the IAEA and other countries, would be able to secure the confidence of the international community that Japan represented no concern for nuclear non-proliferation.
On nuclear supply, the delegate of the Russian Federation said his Government had proposed the development of a global network for atomic energy and the creation of international centres to provide services throughout the fuel cycle, open to any State party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. To that end, the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Armenia had established a centre for uranium enrichment in his country, which was open to all States in compliance with the non-proliferation regime. The Russian Federation also had a reserve of low-enriched uranium available to Member States, under IAEA’s management.
The delegate of Malaysia stressed the importance of the IAEA Programme for Technical Cooperation in promoting the peaceful use of nuclear technology. The extension of that Programme should be based upon the needs and requests of Member States, he emphasized, adding that the Programme should also take into account the “evolving requirements” of States, as well as the issue of funding. He recalled that, during the Preparatory Commission meeting for the most recent Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, some States parties had called for the Programme for Technical Cooperation to be supported by the regular budget instead of relying on the Technical Cooperation Fund. Malaysia joined that call and looked forward to further discussions on the matter under the working group for financing the Agency’s activities.
In other business, the Assembly adopted, without a vote, a draft resolution on the report of the Agency. By the text, the Assembly reaffirmed its strong support for the indispensable role of the Agency in encouraging and assisting the development and practical application of atomic energy for peaceful uses, in technology transfer to developing countries, and in nuclear safety, verification and security.
Speaking in explanation of position before the action, the representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea described the report of the IAEA as “far from being correct and true” and failing to cover the fundamental issues on the Korean Peninsula. He said the Agency had “no power” to intervene in the nuclear issue in his country because the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was neither a party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons nor a member State of the IAEA. The Agency was a “dead body” that followed the lead of a politically motivated country, namely the United States, and thus had lost its impartiality as an international organization.