On 22 September, the UN General Assembly held a High-level Meeting on Nuclear Safety and Security at the UN headquarters in New York. The meeting was convened within the context of an increasing call for international cooperation in enhancing nuclear safety that arised in the wake of the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan.
The discussions of the meeting also bore strong connections with the agendas of the 55th International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) General Conference (19-23 September) and the seventh Conference on Facilitating the Entry into Force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty on 23 September.
The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon commenced his opening speech by alluding to his visit to Chernobyl for the twenty-fifth anniversary of the nuclear accident, and in Japan to console the families affected by the earthquake, tsunami, and the accident at the Daiichi nuclear power plant. He affirmed that the effects of such nuclear accidents “respect no borders” and international consensus and action should be strengthened to safeguard the security of people from such accidents. He further outlined that strengthening nuclear safety entails three aspects: strengthening the capacity of relevant international organizations, in particular, the IAEA; strengthening the link between the international nuclear response system and the international humanitarian coordination system; and strengthening the nexus between safety and security.
In his speech, Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, President of the UN General Assembly, pronounced his personal commitments to ensure the UN’s leading role in facilitating international cooperation in this area. He also lauded the Secretary-General’s launching of the UN system-wide study on the implications of the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Along a similar line, he commended the IAEA, for its prompt response to the Japanese incident and its recent adoption of the IAEA Action Plan on Nuclear Safety in June during the Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Safety. “We must also continue to support the work of the IAEA, given its major role in this regard,” he remarked.
During the interactive ministerial discussions, a number of delegates also welcomed the IAEA’s recent initiatives. While acknowledging the imperative for an effective international cooperation through international mechanisms such as the IAEA, many also stressed the need for a stronger regional cooperation. Along this line, the President of the European Commission introduced an EU-wide safety and risk assessment of nuclear facilities and EU legislations such as the EU Safety Directive (2009) and the Directive on Radioactive Waste (2011), which are expected to play an instrumental role in upholding the security of the European region. He also remarked that the coherent policy of the EU “sets an example for the global community.”
The Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda spoke at length, first expressing his gratitude for the warm concerns shown by the international community in the aftermath of the climate and nuclear disasters. He stressed that the nuclear accident, in particular, has been falling under control of intense follow-up measures, as indicated by the notable decrease in the amount of radioactive materials being discharged, compared to the early stage of the accident. He also affirmed the Japanese government’s full commitment on disclosure of all relevant information regarding the accident, and its utmost efforts to raise the safety of nuclear power generation, through devising new national plans and actively partaking in international initiatives. Japan has also strengthened collaboration with its two key neighbors - China and Korea - on the issue of nuclear safety. For example, as the Korean President Lee Myung-bak highlighted, the annual Trilateral Summit Meeting among the three countries has produced a declaration on cooperation on nuclear safety in May.
The Secretary-General provided a summary of the discussions in his closing speech. Some important points made included:
The international community should ensure public confidence and trust, which will require full transparency and demonstrating results in achieving maximum safety.
All existing efforts to strengthen nuclear safety should be supported at the highest level, and the IAEA Action Plan should play a central role in the process.
The international community must strengthen the international framework, which will require promoting the rule of law as well as implementing and revising the relevant conventions.
The international community needs to build a stronger connection between nuclear safety and nuclear security.
States should promptly review and strengthen their emergency preparedness as well as response arrangements and capabilities.
The Secretary-General also expressed his hopes that the results of the meeting would set a constructive basis for the discussions in the upcoming 2012 Seoul Nuclear Security Summit.
Click here to view the Secretary-General’s statement to the press on the meeting.