Friday, November 09, 2012

The IAEA Annual Report

iaea
IAEA Director Yukiya Amano
The International Atomic Energy Agency is important, in part, because it encourages, supports and helps organize the regulatory and safety regimes necessary to have a viable domestic nuclear energy industry. Countries with mature industries – the United States, France, Russia, etc. – may not need that kind of assistance, but they all participate in the IAEA’s activities to support it. The IAEA is like the engine that allows the nuclear energy industry to motor ahead globally. (Terrible analogy – I don’t think countries want to be seen as cogs.)

So, I’m always keenly interested in the IAEA’s annual report to its home base, the United Nations. A lot of the report is routine speech filler, but it’s always intriguing to see how the organization characterizes the world of nuclear energy and nuclear energy in the world. To an extent, it informs how nuclear energy will be discussed over the next year and the issues that may gain prominence.

You can read IAEA Director Yukiya Amano’s statement here. He didn’t deliver it to the U.N. General Assembly as he usually does, a benign casualty of Hurricane Sandy. I’ll highlight a couple of portions here and leave the rest to you. It’s pretty long.

On safety following the accident at Fukushima Daiichi:
Measures have been taken to improve protection against extreme hazards such as earthquakes and tsunamis. Countries are upgrading their emergency preparedness and response capabilities. IAEA safety standards are being reviewed. Our program of expert peer review services is being expanded. A key priority for all nuclear power plant operators has been establishing reliable back-up electricity supply in the event of a prolonged blackout.
Already, it is fair to say that nuclear power is safer than it was before the Fukushima Daiichi accident. But the process of ensuring that the right lessons are learned will continue for many years. It is essential that the Action Plan is implemented in full.
The expansion of expert peer review is very promising. The IAEA has repeatedly floated the idea of international safety standards, in some iterations with an enforcement component. But it has always proven problematic because it raises issues of national sovereignty and cultural priorities. The U.N. prefers consensus, which is very difficult to achieve.

The peer reviews, though, provide a framework of cooperation that should be warmly greeted, allowing new or small industries to stand up and operate regulatory authorities and implement a safety culture. Take a look at this peer review report on Slovakia to see how this can work – you can find a lot more on the subject on the IAEA Web site. The peer reviews (really they’re executive summaries done as press releases) are really interesting to read through.

On the future of nuclear energy:
Nuclear power remains a growth area globally, despite the Fukushima Daiichi accident. Growth is likely to be slower than we anticipated before the accident. But our latest projections show a steady rise in the number of nuclear power plants in the world in the next 20 years.

The IAEA works very closely with what we call newcomer countries - those which are building, or plan to build, their first nuclear power plants. The United Arab Emirates recently became the first country in 27 years to start building its first nuclear power plant. Countries as diverse as Vietnam, Bangladesh, Poland and Belarus plan to follow suit.
We’ve written about many of these countries here – I’ve linked to samples above. And there’s a lot on the UAE – use the search box on that one.

There’s a good deal more, on a number of topics – be sure to take a look at the sections about nonproliferation – but we’ll stop here.

The bottom line for me is the statement above – “Nuclear power remains a growth area globally, despite the Fukushima Daiichi accident.” We touched on this in the last post – that is, the relationship between public support of nuclear energy and the accident in Japan. That nuclear energy is growing globally is positive generally and it also offers a strong opportunity for American manufacturing – a lot of very specialized plant parts are made here. It wouldn’t hurt the trade balance, either.

I always find the IAEA’s activities very interesting and on-point, even when I don’t always agree with its proposals and outcomes. I can’t begin to compare the agency’s effectiveness against, say, UNICEF, but it seems an exceptionally functional and useful U.N. effort to keep countries synced up on nuclear energy.

1 comment:

jim said...

The non-killing low-destruction max-violent nature event at Fukushima was the best affirmation to expand nuclear power, Director Amano.