Nuclear Safety

20 April 1996

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Peaceful and safe uses of nuclear energy will be important for the international community as it approaches the next century, when energy consumption is likely to grow sharply. Use of nuclear energy and ensuring its safety are two sides of the same coin. Countries using nuclear energy must put "safety first".

This document provides some background information under each of the items "Safety of Civilian Reactors" and "Nuclear Waste Management" for the Moscow Nuclear Safety and Security Summit. These two issues encompass:

Safety of Civilian Nuclear Reactors

(1) Principles of nuclear safety, including support for early entry into force of the Convention on Nuclear Safety

Although essentially a national responsibility, in light of the consequences of a major nuclear disaster, all states have a legitimate concern that nuclear power is managed safely everywhere. Over the years, an expanding international infrastructure and international consensus focused on nuclear safety has developed. It is based on an array of binding legal instruments, internationally recognized safety principles, expert review and advisory services and international assistance. This includes an obligation to bring existing reactors that do not meet today's safety requirements to an acceptable level of safety or cease operation.

A general understanding has developed that nuclear safety is the prime responsibility of nuclear operators within a legally binding national regulatory framework operating independently with adequate technical support. The operator and the regulator can only exercise their responsibilities in an appropriate economic and legal environment where they have access to a stable source of revenue. (See energy sector strategies below.)

The G-7 strategy to help improve nuclear safety of the Soviet-designed reactors of Central and Eastern European countries and the Newly Independent States was developed at the Munich Summit in 1992 and was complemented by decisions taken at subsequent Summits. There have been a number of initiatives undertaken since then for nuclear safety improvements and for the strengthening of regulatory regimes. These include the establishment of the Nuclear Safety Account managed by the EBRD, the G-24 coordinating mechanism, the European Union PHARE and TACIS programmes, the Euratom loan facility, coordinated support from the international financial institutions for energy sector reform, and bilateral cooperation projects. In addition, the countries of Central and Eastern Europe and the Newly Independent States have taken actions themselves to improve safety and strengthen their regulatory bodies.

The Moscow Nuclear Summit highlights progress to date and reinforces the importance of partnership among the participants of the Summit in addressing safety concerns.

A major accomplishment in the nuclear safety area was the adoption in June 1994 of the Convention on Nuclear Safety. As of March 1996, it has been signed by 62 countries and ratified or accepted by sixteen, twelve of which have nuclear installations. Ratification by twenty-two States--seventeen with nuclear installations--is necessary for entry into force.

The Nuclear Safety Convention codifies fundamental safety principles concerning the regulation, management and operation of nuclear installations and the obligation to establish and maintain a legislative and regulatory framework. An important feature of the Convention is the obligation to submit reports for review at meetings of the Parties that are to be held on a periodic basis. This approach is based on peer review principles that aim to encourage international collaboration and transparency in the achievement and maintenance of nuclear safety.

(2) Progress on establishing effective regimes on liability for nuclear damage in all countries with nuclear facilities

There are two international conventions establishing international norms in the area of liability for third party damages in the event of a nuclear accident. These are: the Paris Convention, parties to which are from Western Europe, and the Vienna Convention, the parties to which include nations from various parts of the world. The conventions establish that nuclear operators (not suppliers) are strictly liable for third party nuclear damages and that others are excluded from liability. They are interlinked through the joint protocol. They also require financial security of a certain amount to cover this liability. Most European nations are members of either one or the other convention. Canada, Japan, Russia, and the United States, among other countries, are not party to either convention. Canada, Japan, and the United States have effective domestic legislation concerning nuclear liability, which channels liability to the operator. Russia proceeds in the same direction and recently adopted relevant framework national legislation.

The strict and exclusive liability channelled to the operator and mandatory operator financial security are important features of international conventions and domestic legislation in this area. While the primary objective of liability regimes is to ensure the protection of potential victims of nuclear damage, without channelling of liability to the operator, suppliers and manufacturers would not contract to the nuclear industry because of the potential risks involved. Western suppliers are reluctant to enter into significant nuclear projects and safety upgrades, absent adequate protection against legal action in the event of an accident.

Recently, many countries in Eastern and Central Europe have adhered to Vienna Convention and have consequently adopted, or are adopting, appropriate domestic legislation to channel liability to the facility operators. Russia and some other states, including Ukraine, have embarked on the development of domestic nuclear liability legislation. Some Western countries and the European Commission have secured bilateral agreements to permit the necessary government-funded safety work to proceed. Further progress on the issue of liability would allow greater cooperation in safety upgrades and overall nuclear commerce between Western contractors and operators in Eastern and Central Europe and in the Newly Independent States.

Discussions have been held for some time on the revision of the Vienna Convention and on the establishment of a global supplementary funding system. Many issues associated with the revision of the Vienna Convention have now been resolved through these discussions, but several important questions of principle are still to be addressed. As for the elaboration of a supplementary funding convention, new progress has recently been achieved. The IAEA Board of Governors has urged the IAEA Standing Committee on Nuclear Liability reviewing the Vienna Convention to intensify its efforts in order that a diplomatic conference may be convened.

The further enhancement of the global civilian liability system, including supplementary funding, is considered by many to be a worthwhile goal. The progress being made in the IAEA Standing Committee in order to develop a global regime to which any country could become a part is welcome. Such a global regime would aid the provision of victim compensation in the event of a nuclear accident causing transboundary damage as well as encourage international trade and cooperation in nuclear safety equipment and services. Such a goal will be facilitated if countries with nuclear installations have adopted appropriate domestic legislation based upon accepted international principles.

(3) The importance of energy sector strategies in supporting nuclear safety

Effective strategies for energy sector restructuring are essential to nuclear safety. Energy sector restructuring should contain, as integral elements, provisions for pricing and tariff reform, and for prompt payment for electricity supplies. This will generate adequate cash flow for the utilities to undertake investment in safety upgrades and maintenance, as well as to encourage energy conservation. Full cost tariff polices would also mobilise domestic capital and encourage foreign direct investment. Such restructuring efforts should be seen as a comprehensive process with different initiatives proceeding in parallel, and facilitating early closure of those nuclear power plants that cannot be re-licensed. Decisions on closure should be taken in accordance with the provisions of the Convention on Nuclear Safety.

Bilateral as well as multilateral studies have reaffirmed the strong connection between power sector reform and nuclear safety. Examples include two recently completed studies, the U.S./Russian Joint Electric Power Alternatives Study and the IEA Russian Energy Sector Study, which have examined the Russian power sector and formulated a series of reform and investment recommendations. Their contribution to the development of these concepts is welcome. Among the main conclusions of the U.S./Russian Study mentioned above is the recognition that investments in nuclear power plant safety upgrading are competitive with investments in alterative energy sources and energy efficiency and that it is economic to continue the operation of existing nuclear power plants, provided that they can be re-licensed in accordance with internationally accepted safety standards.

The International Financial Institutions have a continuing role to play in supporting and promoting the implementation of effective strategies for energy sector reform. The EBRD Nuclear Safety Account Grant Agreements call for the completion of least-cost power sector plans and for safety assessments on nuclear reactors as an integral part of a licensing process. This will assist in assuring the safety of these reactors.

Nuclear Waste Management

(1) Encouragement of the negotiations on the Convention on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management

Radioactive waste management issues are increasingly important to the public perception of nuclear energy. The preamble to the Convention on Nuclear Safety contains an affirmation of the need to develop a convention on the safety of radioactive waste management. Following general international agreement on safety fundamentals for the safe management of radioactive waste, work began in July 1995 on the development of the Convention on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management. This Convention will be useful to ensure that countries properly manage their waste to avoid unacceptable risks now or in the future to both the public and the environment. Good progress on developing a text has been made.

(2) Commitments on Ocean Dumping

The London Convention of 1972, which entered into force in 1975, establishes international norms for the disposal of waste at sea and promotes the effective control of all sources of marine pollution. It included a prohibition on sea disposal of high-level radioactive waste. It currently has 74 contracting parties including all Moscow Summit participants.

The parties agreed on December 12, 1993 to ban sea disposal of all radioactive wastes or other radioactive matter, including low-level radioactive wastes. (This exempts material containing de minimis levels of radioactivity, as defined by the IAEA.) Russia has not yet accepted this amendment.

In 1993, the Russian Federation discharged low-level liquid wastes into the Sea of Japan. A joint Russian, Japanese and Korean study with Agency involvement has so far detected no elevated levels of radionuclids. As technical advisor under the London Convention, the IAEA has undertaken a 4-year International Arctic Seas Assessment Project to assess the health and environmental risks and to examine possible remedial actions. There are also joint Russian/Norwegian scientific cruises to the Kara Sea. As the Russian Federation does not currently have sufficient capacity to treat low-level liquid waste arising from their Nordic and Pacific nuclear fleets, the United States, Japan, the Nordic countries and the Republic of Korea are assisting through bilateral and multilateral channels in construction of waste treatment facilities.

The Russian Federation has since de facto observed the ban and stated its intention to refrain from the dumping of radioactive wastes. This position was confirmed in a statement of the Russian and American Presidents in 1994, which included Russia's intention to continue its policy of voluntary adherence to the ban on radioactive waste disposal under the London Convention and eventually to join the ban.

Source: Released at the Moscow Nuclear Safety and Security Summit, April 20, 1996.

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