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Nuclear safety worldwide steadily improving: IAEA chief ElBaradei

ElBaradei_MohamedInternational Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei has said that nuclear safety worldwide is steadily improving but the risk of accidents or malicious acts can never be ruled out and there is no room for complacency.

“Vigilance and continuous improvement are key, both at existing nuclear facilities and at new facilities being planned in a growing number of countries,”
ElBaradei said on opening the meeting of Board of Governors in Vienna recently.

Introducing IAEA’s Nuclear Safety Review for the Year 2008, he said, “The drive to introduce, or expand the use of, nuclear power always needs to be matched by a strong commitment to safety and security as indispensable enablers of nuclear technology.”

He also said that to keep up, the agency must focus on improving its Incident and Emergency Centre to enhance capabilities to respond to a large accident, and must provide more effective support for Member States, especially those who have recently embarked on nuclear power projects.

According to the IAEA’s current Nuclear Technology Review, 2008 was the first year since 1955 in which not a single new power reactor came on line. But it saw construction start on of about 10 new reactors which was the highest number since 1985, the year before the Chernobyl accident.

At the same time, growth targets for nuclear power were raised in China and the Russian Federation, and the ending of restrictions on India’s nuclear trade should allow an acceleration of its planned expansion of nuclear power.

In the United States, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has now received combined licence applications for 26 new reactors, while the Department of Energy submitted a formal application to build and operate the long-planned high-level waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

The number of Agency technical cooperation projects on energy planning accelerated this year from 29 to 41 and there were also significant increases in the number of projects on uranium exploration and mining and on introducing nuclear power.

In April, China will host an International Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Energy in the 21st Century, organized by the Agency with the support of the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an intergovernmental organisation of industrialised countries.