IAEA session highlights need for reactor stress tests

Kyodo

Experts and regulators attending a ministerial working session of the U.N. nuclear agency said Tuesday all countries with nuclear power plants should conduct reactor safety assessments in light of the Fukushima crisis, according to a Japanese official.

The outcome of the session is expected to be reflected in talks on strengthening the International Atomic Energy Agency’s standards for nuclear plant safety.

“Various participants approved the idea of conducting stress tests (on nuclear reactors),” the official said during a briefing about the closed-door session.

Countries would be expected to assess whether they can bring their reactors to a stable cold shutdown based on the assumption of an extreme event, such as the large tsunami that ravaged the Fukushima No. 1 complex.

The six-reactor facility lost nearly all of its power sources, leading to the failure of the cooling functions of the reactors and spent nuclear fuel pools at four of the units.

Some in the meeting also said the IAEA and the World Association of Nuclear Operators, a nonprofit organization working for nuclear safety, should cooperate more in terms of conducting peer reviews, which aim to help members compare their nuclear safety through reviews by outside experts, and that the independence of nuclear regulators should be ensured.

The working session was part of a five-day IAEA ministerial meeting on nuclear safety through Friday.

Meanwhile, Michael Weightman, chief of the IAEA expert mission that recently visited Japan to look into the crisis in Fukushima, said he “very much” welcomed Japan’s decision to separate the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which promotes nuclear power.

The decision came after the IAEA team of nuclear safety experts told the government at the end of its fact-finding mission between May 24 and June 2 about the importance of ensuring the independence of regulatory authorities, among other issues.