Saturday, March 12, 2011

Earthquake in Vienna!

As a frequent visitor of Japan, my thoughts in the last day and a half have been with all my friends and colleagues there. I'd like to also add to the flurry of thoughts and commentaries I see on the Internet, about the explosion at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

In cooperation with the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Government of Ukraine has been planning a major international conference in Kiev next month, on 20-22 April to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl explosion (26 April, 1986). According to the announcement, together with President Viktor Yanukovich of Ukraine, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, EU Commission President José Manuel Barroso and numerous other luminaries will be there.

The Fukushima explosion will have had the effect of an Earthquake at IAEA Vienna Headquarters, for the team in charge of the Chernobyl+25 commemoration next month and for the rest of the staff. And of course the current Director General of the IAEA, Yukiya Amano of Japan will be very concerned personally, let alone professionally by the Fukushima tragedy. Mr. Amano took office as IAEA DG less than a year and a half ago, and he hasn't yet had the opportunity to make his mark on the agency. Unlike his predecessors Mohamed el-Baradei and Hans Blix, Mr. Amano hasn't got much of a public profile until now. 

I'm wondering whether next month's Chernobyl+25 year (and Fukushima+1 month) commemoration in Kiev would be the place, and the time, to discuss the need to review and amend Article II of the IAEA statute. Written in 1957, Article II sets the objective of the agency as "seek[ing] to accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy to peace, health and prosperity throughout the world [...]." In its history, the IAEA has often been accused of covering up misconducts and risky behaviours by nuclear power plant operators. It has also undermined proposals and efforts to increase nuclear safety and radioprotection worldwide. It has been suggested many times that Article II of its statute had a lot to do with the IAEA's lenient culture towards nuclear safety, simply because it is difficult to promote and regulate at the same time an industrial sector (the fox in the chicken coop, so to speak).

As so many nuclear power installations built in the 1970s and 1980s are aging, and as we hear voices talking (until this week-end) of a nuclear revival, wouldn't it be a good idea to strengthen the IAEA through a reform of its statute?

This blogpiece is also available in español, HERE (AQUÍ) on the website of the Spanish news agency EFE.