WZWH in this posting would like to potray the thinking of Mohamed ElBaradei is Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency one of leading Islamic Ulama specialises in nuclear technology. Here...
I am often asked if nuclear power is safe. My standard answer is: “Yes – as safe as air travel.” Plane crashes do occur, but highly effective safety systems ensure that they are extremely rare – so rare that most of us board airplanes without worrying that we might not reach our destination. The same is true of nuclear power, although there are always concerns that a severe accident could have major human and environmental consequences.
The question is of more than merely academic interest. The future of nuclear power will be one of the key issues on the table at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December. Global nuclear power capacity could double in the next 20 years. Thirty countries already use nuclear power and many of them, including China, Russia, and India, plan major expansions in their existing programs. Around 60 other countries – most of them in the developing world – have informed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that they are interested in introducing nuclear power.
Nuclear power has obvious attractions for both rich and poor countries. The developing world desperately needs access to electricity to help lift people out of poverty and ensure sustainable development. In some African countries, electricity consumption per capita is around 50 kilowatt-hours per year, compared with an average of 8,600 kilowatt-hours in the OECD countries.
All countries are concerned about security of energy supplies as reserves of fossil fuels dwindle, as well as about the sometimes wild fluctuations in the price of oil, coal, and gas. Climate change is also a growing concern. Nuclear power is not a panacea for all of the world’s energy problems, but it will continue to be part of the global energy mix for the foreseeable future.
As with other technologies, countries must weigh the costs and benefits of nuclear power. Every country has the right to introduce nuclear power, as well as a responsibility to do it correctly. The IAEA is not a lobbyist for nuclear power. Our role is to provide impartial information and advice. But if a country decides to introduce nuclear power, we work to help ensure that it is done in a safe and secure manner – and exclusively for peaceful purposes.
We impress upon potential newcomers the need to plan properly, to train the required number of highly skilled nuclear engineers and scientists, to build the complex technical infrastructure, to establish independent and effective regulatory bodies, and to adhere to international safety standards and security guidelines. This can take a decade or two. Sometimes, my job is to tell countries that they are just not ready for nuclear power.
The risks to people and the environment that arise from nuclear power are well understood. They can be assessed and controlled. An extensive global safety regime is now in place that includes binding international legal instruments, internationally agreed safety standards, peer review and assessment, nationally integrated systems of governmental and regulatory control, and research and development.
As a result, nuclear safety has improved significantly since the world’s worst nuclear accident at Chernobyl in 1986. But the risk of accidents can never be entirely eliminated. There is always room for improvement, and constant vigilance is needed. It is essential, therefore, to make sure that a true culture of safety takes root worldwide, not least in countries new to nuclear power.
The reactor designs available today are nothing like the Chernobyl reactors. To ensure that nuclear facilities are operated to the highest standards of safety, measures are in place, for example, to control the release of radioactive material to the environment, to prevent the occurrence of events that might lead to a loss of control over a nuclear reactor core, and to mitigate the consequences of such events if they were to occur.
What still needs to be done? Nuclear safety is primarily a national responsibility, but, since risks transcend national borders, close international cooperation is needed. We must work to extend the coverage of international conventions and codes of conduct. In some countries, we still see a troubling combination of old reactors and weak regulators. Progress is needed in demonstrating the safety of long-term disposal of radioactive waste.
Although IAEA safety standards are the recognized international benchmark and are now being incorporated into European Union law, they are voluntary, not binding. The same is true of the peer-review missions, made up of experts from around the world, which we put together to candidly assess the safety of a country’s nuclear power program. All countries should accept the safety standards and regular peer-review missions, which, ideally, should be made binding.
Energy is the engine of development, and development sustains life. We must do our utmost to ensure that peaceful nuclear energy, when a country chooses to pursue it, remains at the service of humanity.