Monday, September 17, 2012

IAEA's Director General Yukiya Amano's Statement on Fukushima: "We are now well into the post-accident phase"

The occasion was the 56th Regular Session of IAEA General Conference being held in Vienna, Austria.

Mr. Amano, a former career bureaucrat in Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, says "lessons learned from Fukushima" a number of times in the statement, but gives one concrete example only: backup power.

Other than that, the Fukushima nuclear accident is behind us, according to Mr. Amano, and everything is fine and dandy again in the world of nuclear energy. All we need to do is to make sure it is as safe as humanly possible.

From IAEA press release (9/17/2012), part about the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant accident (emphasis is mine):

Mr. President,

Nuclear power remains the best known peaceful application of nuclear energy. When I became Director General three years ago, the talk was of a nuclear renaissance. Then the Fukushima Daiichi accident happened, raising fundamental questions about the future of nuclear energy throughout the world.

Eighteen months after the accident, it is clear that nuclear energy will remain an important option for many countries. Our latest projections show a steady rise in the number of nuclear power plants in the world in the next 20 years.

Most of the new nuclear power reactors which are planned or under construction are in Asia. Established users such as China, India, the Republic of Korea and the Russian Federation plan significant expansions of their nuclear power programmes. Developing countries continue to show keen interest in nuclear power. Vietnam and Bangladesh are among those with advanced plans to build their first power reactors.

The most important lesson that we have learned from Fukushima Daiichi is that we need a much more intense focus on nuclear safety. But nuclear energy offers many benefits. It can help to improve energy security, reduce the impact of volatile fossil fuel prices, mitigate the effects of climate change and make economies more competitive. It also has important non-electric applications such as seawater desalination, district heating and heat for industrial processes. The Agency is committed to supporting the development of new and emerging applications in these areas.

In recent years, we have devoted more staff and resources to helping newcomer countries. The United Arab Emirates recently became the first country in 27 years to start building its first nuclear power plant. Our expert assistance enables newcomers to learn from the experience of existing nuclear power users. We have extensive tools to assist newcomers with energy planning and infrastructure development, and in crafting sound long-term nuclear energy strategies. We stress that the highest standards of safety must be the basis of all nuclear power programmes.

Turning to the question of assurance of supply of nuclear fuel, the world's first reserve of low enriched uranium (LEU) under the Agency's auspices was established in December 2010 in Angarsk, in the Russian Federation.

A separate arrangement, originally proposed by the United Kingdom, for the assurance of supply of enrichment services and LEU, is also in place. Our work to establish an IAEA LEU Bank in Kazakhstan continues to make progress.

The safe management and disposal of radioactive waste and spent fuel remain key issues. The Agency works closely with Member States in this area. The nuclear industry has been managing interim waste disposal successfully for more than half a century. But no long-term disposal facility has so far become operational for nuclear spent fuel. This is often due to difficulties involving public acceptance.

Nevertheless, good progress has been made in a number of countries, including Finland, Sweden and France. Last month, I had an opportunity to visit the ONKALO facility in Finland, where a repository for the final disposal of spent fuel is being built deep underground. It is an impressive site. We expect the first deep geological repositories for nuclear spent fuel to become operational after 2020. The progress that is being made in this area deserves to be better known.

The International Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Power in the 21st Century in St Petersburg, Russia, next June, will provide a valuable opportunity to consider nuclear power's long-term contribution to sustainable development.

Mr. President,

At the last General Conference, the Fukushima Daiichi accident was uppermost in all our minds. The Agency provided practical assistance to Japan and shared information, openly and transparently, with governments and the public.

We are now well into the post-accident phase. The focus is on implementing the IAEA Action Plan on Nuclear Safety which the last General Conference endorsed. Progress has been made in many areas. Let me highlight one example. One of the key problems at Fukushima Daiichi was the loss of all electrical power as backup generators were disabled by the tsunami. After the accident, securing alternative reliable electricity supply during a prolonged blackout was recognized as an area requiring swift action by plant operators around the world.

We have expanded the content of IAEA expert peer review services to Member States to include the first lessons learned from the accident. Peer reviews involve assessments of plant safety, regulatory effectiveness or emergency preparedness and response. Possible safety weak points at nuclear power plants have been identified and are being addressed.

We undertook a systematic review of IAEA Safety Standards, taking into account lessons learned from the Fukushima Daiichi accident. We took a self-critical look at our own response to the accident and identified areas where we could have done better, including in communication. We launched a series of international expert meetings focussing on different technical issues. And we have continued to support our Member States in their efforts to enhance the international nuclear safety legal framework.

In December, the Fukushima Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Safety, organized by the Government of Japan and the IAEA, will take place in Fukushima Prefecture. At this Conference, we will present a report outlining the conclusions of the international expert meetings held so far. We will also prepare a comprehensive report on the Fukushima Daiichi accident, to be finalized in 2014.

Nuclear safety remains the primary responsibility of individual countries. However, governments have recognized that effective international cooperation is vitally important and that the IAEA has a unique role to play in this regard. It is essential that the Nuclear Safety Action Plan is implemented in full. We must never become complacent. The ultimate goal is to make nuclear power as safe as humanly possible everywhere and to restore public confidence.

As safe as humanly possible. How is he going to achieve that? Probably by creating more detailed manuals and procedures to follow. TEPCO and NISA did have extensive manuals and procedures, but that didn't help either of them in dealing with the accident unfolding in front of them in a way that had never been described in the manuals and anticipated in the procedures.

From reading what Asahi Shinbun had to report from the transcript of 50 hours worth of the teleconference video in the early days of the accident in March last year, I am beginning to form my own conclusion that all could have been prevented if they, particularly TEPCO, dared not follow the manuals and procedures, rules and regulations. (More later, maybe.)

No amount of IAEA's new and improved procedures will make nuclear power as safe as humanly possible. It will only make a very convenient excuse for the officials and operators of nuclear plants when an accident does happen. "See, we meticulously followed the procedures. We did nothing wrong. It's all beyond our expectation."

Sound familiar?


Anonymous said...

They just can't grasp that there's no such thing as true nuclear safety. Sure, we're safe from blowing up immediately, but we still can't do anything about all the other dangers.

It's an incomplete technology, we really shouldn't be using it at this stage. Also, as I've stated before, it's not just an issue with the technology, but also the society that uses it. Humans have a long way to go before they can responsibly wield such power without succumbing to greed and other similar pitfalls.

Dare I quote Jurassic Park again?

Dr. Ian Malcolm: "If I may... Um, I'll tell you the problem with the scientific power that you're using here, it didn't require any discipline to attain it. You read what others had done and you took the next step. You didn't earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don't take any responsibility for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could, and before you even knew what you had, you patented it, and packaged it, and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox, and now you're selling it, you wanna sell it. Well..."

arevamirpal::laprimavera said...

Whenever I think of "incomplete technology", I always think of Microsoft Excel, which retains the same bug that existed in DOS, and their buggy OS all these years...

Anonymous said...

@ arevamirpal::laprimavera
Fair enough, with a big difference yet.
MS is just like N. Power industry in that it is fuzzy from the scratch, patches bugs with other bugs endlessly, and that its business practices are corrupting, murky and illegal.
The difference is that there are other and right ways of computing, and other business models like Unix, Gnu-Linux and others.
I don't think it is the case as for nuclear industry.

Anonymous said...

But no long-term disposal facility has so far become operational for nuclear spent fuel. This is often due to difficulties involving public acceptance.

Why wouldn't the public accept living next to a nuclear long-term (or short-term) facility?

Anonymous said...

There is NO FUTURE in nuclear power. None. Not for anyone.

Anonymous said...

(I apologize beforehand: This is going to be long, even though I'll focus only on my main points.)

I would be surprised if anyone at the IAEA were to claim that humans are predictable, perfect and infallible. And given that we are not, "as safe as humanly possible" logically means the same as "uncertain" and hence there is no such thing as safety. Not good enough in my book and therefore a reason to give a "no go" to the technology.

But let's, for argument's sake, assume some risk is acceptable to all of us. My next objection would be that we are powerless to deal with the consequences if something goes wrong, as Fukushima shows all too clearly. Or has anyone come up with a good solution in the meantime as to what to do with those four reactors long-term, given that we can't even get close enough to as much as look inside, much less clean up the mess? Last thing I recall was the vague plan to develop new technologies for that. In my book, if you don't know how to clean up a mess, you should not be allowed the opportunity to create it in the first place. Another "no go" for NPPs in my book.

As for the spin on the safe long-term storage of nuclear waste, I'm just speechless (all evidence to the contrary, I know - sorry!). To use one facility (ONKALO) that may some day finally be able to hold a small fraction of all the planet's nuclear waste reasonably safe for a nonetheless non-guarantee-able length of time, to use that one facility to make it look as if the worldwide nuclear waste problem no longer exists is outright audacious. One doesn't even have to take into account the safety risk nuclear waste posts until it can finally be disposed of to conclude that this is ridiculous. Again, in my book, no ready, sufficient and guaranteed safe long-term storage for nuclear waste existing BEFOREHAND means a "no go" on creating such nuclear waste in the first place.

In all this, I am also not reassured that we're all learning from past mistakes and short-comings, according to the IAEA. With a technology so dangerous that it can potentially, in the long run, eradicate life on the planet, there is zero room for mistakes. And if it is agreed that mistakes were made, the only thing to learn from that is that we are not capable of safely handling the technology. Of course, "safe" has to once again be defined as "no harm will come to you" instead of accepting the nuclear industry's definition, which seems to be "with a little luck, you won't drop dead right away."

And finally, I always thought an accident is taking place when something unwanted happens. The accident is then over when no further unwanted and unexpected things happen, no unknowns in that respect exist, and certainly when no further dangers can come from the event. How anyone of sane mind could possibly apply "accident over" to Fukushima ... well, its a mystery to me.

What is as clear as could possibly be, however, is that an agency so obviously intent on promoting nuclear technology at nearly all cost should NOT EVER be in charge of regulating it!

Anonymous said...

Chernobyl has been around for 25 years and that accident still isn't over, they are reduced to begging the world community for funds to cover the old deteriorated cover that threatens to collaspe into a second catastrophe. The Mayak accidents in the Chelyabinsk region happened 55 years ago and it still isn't over people have been dying for over half a century from its effects.

As far as I'm concerned the accident isn't over until the impact of the accident is no longer detectable and by that measure the end is many decades away.

Anonymous said...

How come these IAEA folks *always* forget to include Iran and North Korea among the nations that plan to enjoy the many benefits of nuclear energy, foremost among them obtaining a good excuse to build a plutonium stockpile?

Anonymous said...

Can you imagine if the North American Union had the density of population that Nippon has?

Okay,can you imagine the 1200 nuclear reactors along the pacific and atlantic coasts?

Can you imagine two breaching containment every year?

They would be blowing up faster than they could be built.

Anonymous said...

I meant incomplete technology as in, discoveries that people use and market before we have full comprehension and control over them. That definition could probably be applied to many things, such as all the chemicals we consume on a daily basis. I suppose it's not just "technology".

When I originally wrote that comment, I imagined rich bastards that fund research, continuously moan about how "every passing moment the tech isn't being used is money lost". I'm certain that's what happens in reality.

In other words, nuclear technology is ready for daily public use and immense profit, but it's not ready for long-term reliable use. Assuming the technology can even be improved upon... otherwise it'd be better to search for alternatives, but we're not even doing that.

Why not? because there's money to be made from what we have, right now. Again, this applies to many things and is one of the reasons why humanity isn't going anywhere.

Anonymous said...

Rich companies like Microsoft see no reason to fix problems with their products because they're too busy swimming in billions of undeserved cash. If it doesn't affect the stock or consumer confidence, they don't give a rat's ass.

Look at how Adobe and Autodesk ruined every software they purchased. Most of them used to be amazing and cheap. Now they're unstable fatty-fat bloatware. You have to pay a fortune for every update, and each update breaks more things. They just keep pooping more crap on top without fixing old issues. "Oh hey, let's redo the GUI because people care so much about appearances!"

It's the exact same problem as with everything else. Nobody wants to fix problems at the foundation, they just focus on the surface - blaming victims instead of instigators, piling crap on top to hide the real issues, etc.

Clearly the real problem is human mentality. Pretty on the surface, rotten on the inside.

Outbound said...

nice article :-)

Atomfritz said...

Honestly, who does expect anything except self-congratulation from the nuclear lobby?

And, comparing third generation nuke plants or "safety upgraded" older ones with MS Windows is really a good illustration.
Both are an impressive collection of murky "safety patches" that frequently break other things or introduce new, completely different problems or flaws, often unnoticed.

Everybody who installed an original Windows XP and then online-upgraded it knows this. When you do this, more than a thousand of patches will be installed.
To actually know what has been changed in the working of the system, one would have to read and understand every single patch note!

And now imagine a nuclear plant, usually quite old and modified ("safety-upgraded") numerous times.
To understand how it _actually_ works (in contrast to the original "user manual"), every nuclear operator is supposed to have studied and memorized every modification that has been implemented on this particular reactor.

But, this is actually impossible. Do you know anybody who has read every patch note from MS? If a Windows PC crashes, just reboot, usually no problem. But a reactor has no reset button.

And, then consider things going out of sync. Just think of an occasional "inofficial patch". Like that Zirconium piece that led to the demise of the Fermi breeder reactor near Detroit, and many other incidents that were (luckily) less spectacular.

Modern nuclear reactors are like software projects plagued with many bugs and fixes, some of them botched, introducing new bugs and side-effects, increasing complexity to a degree making them un-overseeable and thus unmaintainable.

Maybe this is why the quite simple British Magnox reactors was the only type of reactors that almost reached an average 50-year operating life?
Maybe this is why the relatively simple Russian reactors work so much more reliably than their "high-tech" Western counterparts?
Maybe this is a reason why utilities try to keep their oldest reactors running while decommissioning newer ones?
Maybe this even is one reason why the Third World nuclear plant building countries apparently prefer Korean, Russian and Japanese 2nd generation nuke plants over 3rd generation ones like the EPR?

Anonymous said...

I know,we tried to shut down the reactor but the touch screen was broken,it was known about but couldn't be replaced,and they were insisting new systems would only come after the first PU refuel,it was during the second cycle when we really needed those systems but since they had pissed it up the wall millions of people would have to die.

Something like that perhaps.

Maybe they were coerced into removing the guarding so shareholders would not be dissapointed?

Anonymous said...

"We are now well into the post-accident phase." Is the human die off phase next?

Stop nuclear power. Run for public office. Campaign. Talk to your neighbors. Vote.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Amano, the head of IAEA, is still unaware... that backup generators, even if working, could not have prevented the Fukushima accident. It was the mother nature destruction of the sea water intake facility for heat exchange, the ultimate heat sink, that made all means of cooling disabled.

All of the new nuclear facilities in developing nations that Amano mentioned in the speech rely on a similar sea water heat exchange mechanism. Thus all are fully at risk of repeating the Fukushima scale disaster because no one can predict and prevent the forces of mother nature.

Mr. Amano of IAEA, shockingly a simple minded guy, ignominiously incompetent, for an organization dealing with the complex issues. We need someone smarter, with real brain.

Anonymous said...

Utilities keep running old reactors because they make money out of them.
Same concept as Krupp running an old steel furnace until it kills several workers, then just scrap it. Same concept as you keep a gilt until it can give birth to piglets and then you kill it.

Third world countries prefer cheaper plants because they deliver plutonium cheaper than more expensive plants, I am afraid.


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