NUCLEAR | IAEA Fact-Finding Team Completes Visit to Japan (1 June 2011)

Posted on June 1, 2011

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NUCLEAR | IAEA | 1 June 2011

A team of international nuclear safety experts today completed a preliminary assessment of the safety issues linked with TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station accident following the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. The team – created by an agreement of the IAEA and the Government of Japan – sought to identify lessons learned from the accident that can help improve nuclear safety around the world.

To conduct its work, the team held extensive discussions with officials from the full range of Japanese nuclear-related agencies and visited three nuclear sites, including the nuclear power plant at TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi. These visits gave the team a first-hand appreciation of the scale of devastation wreaked by the earthquake and tsunami on 11 March and of the extraordinary efforts Japanese workers have been applying ever since to stabilize the situation.

“Our entire team was humbled by the enormous damage inflicted by the tsunami on Japan. We are also profoundly impressed by the dedication of Japanese workers working to resolve this unprecedented nuclear accident,” said team leader Mike Weightman, the United Kingdom’s Chief Inspector of Nuclear Installations.

The team was comprised of international experts with experience across a range of nuclear specialties. They came from 12 countries: Argentina, China, France, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Turkey, United Kingdom and the United States.

In a draft report summary delivered to Japanese authorities today, the team prepared a set of preliminary conclusions and identified lessons learned in three broad areas: external hazards, severe accident management and emergency preparedness. The final report will be delivered to the Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Safety at IAEA headquarters in Vienna from 20 to 24 June.

The expert team made several preliminary findings and lessons learned, including:

  • Japan’s response to the nuclear accident has been exemplary, particularly illustrated by the dedicated, determined and expert staff working under exceptional circumstances;
  • Japan’s long-term response, including the evacuation of the area around stricken reactors, has been impressive and well organized. A suitable and timely follow-up programme on public and worker exposures and health monitoring would be beneficial;
  • The tsunami hazard for several sites was underestimated. Nuclear plant designers and operators should appropriately evaluate and protect against the risks of all natural hazards, and should periodically update those assessments and assessment methodologies;
  • Nuclear regulatory systems should address extreme events adequately, including their periodic review, and should ensure that regulatory independence and clarity of roles are preserved; and
  • The Japanese accident demonstrates the value of hardened on-site Emergency Response Centres with adequate provisions for handling all necessary emergency roles, including communications.

“I appreciate the high level of cooperation and access that our team has received from Japan, as the devastating natural events and subsequent accident at TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi have provided a unique opportunity for learning,” Weightman said. “It is of fundamental importance for all with responsibility for nuclear safety across the world to seek to learn from this unique event.”

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