In a statement to a General Assembly meeting on the UN agency’s activities over the past year, the head of the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Director-General Yukiya Amano, told delegates that nuclear power is safer than before the Fukushima Daiichi disaster:
“Measures have been taken to improve protection against extreme hazards such as earthquakes and tsunamis. Countries are upgrading their emergency preparedness and response capabilities. Our programme of expert peer review services is being expanded.”
Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was severely damaged during a March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, when the building housing the plant exploded, and three of its nuclear reactors suffered a meltdown in what was reported to be the worst nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
Despite the accident and subsequent spread of anti-nuclear sentiment around the world, Mr. Amano noted that the IAEA’s latest projections showed a steady rise in the number of nuclear power plants in the next 20 years, with the majority being constructed in Asia. At the same time, he reported that established users such as China, India, the Republic of Korea and the Russian Federation had planned “significant expansions” of their respective nuclear programmes.
The IAEA chief also addressed the agency’s safeguards activities in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Iran and Syria. He noted that the IAEA had “credible information” indicating that Iran had carried out “activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device.”
The Director-General added that the agency remains “firmly committed to intensifying dialogue” with Iran and urged the country to provide clarification regarding the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear programme. Iran says the programme is for peaceful purposes of energy production but many countries fear it is aimed at attaining nuclear weapons capability.
Addressing the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Mr. Amano stated that he remains concerned about the country’s nuclear programme, and described its statements about uranium enrichment activities as troubling.
In addition, the UN official also underlined the IAEA’s efforts in countering nuclear terrorism: “Our work focuses on helping minimize the risk of nuclear and other radioactive material falling into the hands of terrorists, or of nuclear facilities being subjected to malicious acts.”
Mr. Amano said that over 12,000 people in more than 120 countries had been trained in nuclear security by the IAEA in the past decade, and announced that the agency had submitted background documentation ahead of a planned conference on the establishment of a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East scheduled for later this year.