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Secretary-General's Remarks at Summit on the Safe and Innovative Use of Nuclear Energy

News and Press Release
Originally published

Kiev, Ukraine, 19 April 2011

Your Excellency, President Victor Yanukovych,

Distinguished Heads of State and Government,

Distinguished Ministers,

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

I thank President Yanukovych for his vision in organizing this conference long before issues of nuclear safety made it back to the world's front pages.

Distinguished participants,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Twenty-five years ago, the explosion at Chernobyl cast a radioactive cloud over Europe and a shadow around the world.

At this moment, the tragedy at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant continues to unfold.

Together, these accidents raise popular fears and disturbing questions.

The disaster at Chernobyl offers one set of lessons.

The disaster in Japan offers another – vastly more complex.

As we are painfully learning once again, nuclear accidents respect no borders.

They pose direct threats to human health and the environment. They cause economic disruptions, affecting everything from agricultural production to trade and global services.

This is a moment for deep reflection: How do we ensure both the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and maximum safety?

We need a global rethink on this fundamental question.

Because the consequences are catastrophic, safety must be paramount.

Because the consequences are transnational, they must be debated globally.

Today, let me offer five concrete steps to enhance nuclear safety for our future.

First, it is time for a top to bottom review of current nuclear safety standards, both at the national and international levels.

Today, the primary responsibility for ensuring the safety of nuclear installations lies with national governments. I strongly urge States to consider lessons learned and adopt appropriate measures to apply the highest possible safety standards.

This includes safety precautions, staff training, a reliable quality assurance system, and independent regulatory oversight. It also means greater transparency if there is to be public trust.

I am encouraged that many Governments are reassessing their national policies and regulations. Last week's review meeting of the Convention on Nuclear Safety in Vienna also produced many useful suggestions. I strongly urge those States that have not acceded to the Convention on Nuclear Safety to do so without delay.

That leads me to my second point: we must strengthen support for the International Atomic Energy Agency on the challenge of nuclear safety.

I want to once again commend the IAEA and Director-General Amano for the rapid response to events in Japan. The Joint Radiation Emergency Plan went into action just hours after the earthquake and tsunami. I also convened a high-level meeting with the heads of the relevant international organizations to assess the implications of the nuclear crisis. We have shared information and expertise, participated in global monitoring and helped reassure a concerned global public.

The time has come to strengthen the capacity of the IAEA in the further development and universal application of the highest possible nuclear safety standards. The IAEA Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Safety in June in Vienna will serve as an important forum in this regard.

As a follow-up, I also will consider convening a high-level meeting on strengthening the international nuclear safety regime when world leaders gather in New York this September.

We need international standards for construction, agreed guarantees of public safety, full transparency and information-sharing among nations.

Third, we must put a sharper focus on the new nexus between natural disasters and nuclear safety. The challenge of climate change is bringing with it greater extremes of weather. Nuclear power plants must be prepared to withstand everything from earthquakes to tsunamis, from fires to floods.

According to the IAEA, 64 new reactors are under construction. Today, 443 are operating in 29 countries worldwide, some located in areas of seismic activity.

This requires us to place new importance on disaster preparedness, in rich and poor nations alike. Japan, after all, is among the best prepared and most technically advanced nuclear energy powers.

What are the implications for countries that are less ready for the worst?

That is why I will make sure that disaster preparedness for nuclear accidents is included in the themes of the Third Session of the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in Geneva next month.

Fourth, we must undertake a renewed cost-benefit analysis of nuclear energy. The right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy is enshrined in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Nuclear power will likely continue to be an important resource for many nations and can be a part of a low-carbon-emission energy mix – but it has to become credibly safe, and globally so. Again, it is time to pause and rethink our approach.

For this reason, I will launch a UN system-wide study on the implications of the accident at Fukushima. I will ask the relevant UN agencies and specialized organizations to undertake this task.

Fifth and finally, we need to build a stronger connection between nuclear safety and nuclear security.

Though nuclear safety and nuclear security are distinct issues, boosting one can bolster the other. At a time when terrorists and others are seeking nuclear materials and technology, stringent safety systems at nuclear power plants will reinforce efforts to strengthen nuclear security. A nuclear power plant that is safer for its community is also one that is more secure for our world.

Addressing this challenge requires the active cooperation of the nuclear industry.

As I proposed at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington last year, a broad-based partnership is essential to building a better framework for nuclear safety and security. Such an approach is critical in the run-up to the 2012 Seoul Nuclear Security Summit.


Ladies and gentlemen,

These are five practical steps we can take to reassure the global public and better prepare our people and our planet for the energy challenges of the 21st century.

By joining forces, we can make sure that the tragedies of Chernobyl and Fukushima are a thing of the past, not a harbinger of the future.

Thank you for coming together in that noble cause. Thank you very much.