Public opinion needs to grow with nuclear safety

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Nuclear safety cannot be separated from

.

That was the message in Vienna today as the UN nuclear watchdog wrapped up its first nuclear safety

after the accident at Japan's Fukushima power plant, where an earthquake and tsunami crippled reactors in March.

"The primary goal is to make nuclear power plants as safe as humanly possible, as quickly as possible," said Yukiya Amano, the director general of the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency. "But it is also important to rebuild long-term public confidence in the safety of nuclear power. For that, tangible outcomes are needed, and we must maintain our sense of urgency. We must also be fully transparent."

A Reuters poll published this month found only 22 per cent of respondents from around the world supported the construction of new nuclear plants. That is in contrast to the UAE, where a survey commissioned by Abu Dhabi's nuclear energy company found that 60 per cent of people polled supported building a nuclear power station in their emirate. Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation plans to have the first of four planned reactors up by 2017.

IAEA delegates debated nuclear safety behind closed doors this week. Here are highlights from their findings, provided today to diplomats, that include advice for nuclear newcomers and the need for strengthened reviews:

- It is imperative for new countries embarking on nuclear programmes to fully implement IAEA Safety Standards, to integrate lessons learned from the Fukushima accident into the development of their programmes and to demonstrate complete preparedness to operate nuclear power plants (NPPs) before commissioning the first reactor.

- All Member States and the IAEA, WANO, WNA and other national and international organizations were encouraged to improve public information on nuclear energy, radiation and other nuclear issues. This will help to avoid unnecessary misunderstanding, fear and resistance against the peaceful utilization of nuclear energy and help to build trust in the global nuclear community.

- Legal instruments for the international emergency preparedness and response framework were adopted 25 years ago and inevitably reflect the prevailing concerns at that time. Possible ways to strengthen these instruments should be considered.

- In addition, the IAEA's safety review services are currently being carried out in Member States on a purely voluntary basis. While safety review services are requested by some Member States, they have not been sought by all. Moreover, there are instances where reviews have been carried out without follow-up to monitor implementation of previous recommendations. Member States should take advantage of the review services and respond promptly to the results.

- Countries embarking on nuclear power programmes need to participate fully in the global nuclear safety framework. They should become contracting parties to the relevant international legal instruments, apply the IAEA Safety Standards, and make use of the associated IAEA review services. These activities will contribute to building the necessary national infrastructure that is essential for safety. The newcomer countries need to demonstrate that an emergency preparedness and response programme is in place and that they have the capability to manage severe accidents before startup of the first nuclear installation.

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