You may have heard the International Atomic Energy Agency is having a ministerial conference in Vienna – ironic, of course, as Austria has no nuclear facilities. But the pastries are nice and the tourist council always appreciates the visitors.
I think the most interesting part of the conference, which was called to discuss post-Fukushima Daiichi safety issues - will happen later this week, as Japan will present its initial findings on the accident.
But the early part of the week brought a rather surprising proposal from the IAEA itself:
In Vienna this week, opening the International Atomic Energy Agency's first major global meeting since the Japanese Fukushima reactor disaster, agency head Yukiya Amano proposed that his organisation conduct random checks on reactors.
Warning that "business as usual" was not an option for the nuclear industry, he called for drafting of stronger IAEA global standards within a year and for improvements to the independence and capability of national regulators.
So, it would become kind of a “meta-regulator,” watching the watchmen, so to speak. The agency has to have its member countries sign on to this idea, which of course leads to issues of national sovereignty. Reporter Rick Wallace of the Australian writes that the idea hasn’t gone over very well – it’s essentially his lede and headline - but he offers nothing to back up the assertion – maybe he’s just reflecting hubbub on the floor of the conference rather than official statements. Stay tuned.
You can read NRC Chairman’s Gregory Jaczko’s remarks here. Here’s a bit:
While it is my opinion that U.S. nuclear plants are safe, the early work suggests there are a number of possible areas for improvement. To name a few, several of us on the commission have noted that our regulations for what is called a station blackout – essentially what happened in Fukushima – do not take into account an extended loss of AC power. Other areas that have drawn attention are spent fuel pools, emergency planning, or course seismic issues, contingency planning for situations beyond the design basis of a plant, and others.
All logical items to look at.
And IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano’s comments are here. A taste:
"We need to strengthen IAEA Safety Standards and to ensure that they are universally applied. I am therefore asking the IAEA's Commission on Safety Standards to review the relevant standards and to report within 12 months, with recommendations for strengthening them."
"Even the best safety standards are useless unless they are actually implemented. I urge all Member States to make a firm commitment to apply IAEA Safety Standards in practice."
He also made his “meta-regulator’ proposal in this speech. Do read the whole thing for an overview on what the IAEA has in mind.
We’ll have more on the conference after Japan presents its report on Fukushima.
Something entirely different: A sort of ramshackle anti-nuclear story at the Guardian didn’t include much that is comment-worthy, but I found its conclusion amusing:
The US energy mix, instead [of nuclear energy, of course], should include a national jobs program to make existing buildings energy efficient, and to install solar and wind-power technology where appropriate. These jobs could not be outsourced and would immediately reduce our energy use and, thus, our reliance on foreign oil and domestic coal and nuclear. Such a program could favor US manufacturers, to keep the money in the US economy. That would be a simple, effective and sane reaction to Fukushima.
I’m puzzled about the impact of these ideas on oil, but I cannot think that any other quibbling would get us anywhere. It’d be like arguing with a pile of fluff.
IAEA chief Yukiya Amano in duplicate at the ministerial conference.