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International Atomic Energy Agency: Role in Japan’s Nuclear Crisis and in Revising International Standards on Nuclear Safety

(Mar. 22, 2011) On March 14, 2011, Yukiya Amano, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), announced the launch of a daily technical briefing by the IAEA on nuclear safety in Japan in the aftermath of the cataclysmic March 11 earthquake and tsunami. Amano noted that “[t]he entire island of Honshu has been shifted 2-1/2 metres. The nuclear plants have been shaken, flooded and cut off from electricity. Operators have suffered personal tragedies.” He indicated that the alert was declared on the basis of article 10 of Japan's Act on Special Measures Concerning Nuclear Emergency Preparedness, because radioactivity readings exceeded the permissible levels in the areas contiguous to the plant. (Yukiya Amano, IAEA Director General Launches Daily Briefing on Nuclear Safety inEarthquake-Stricken Japan, IAEA website (Mar. 14, 2011).)

He went on to state that the IAEA “has an important role in coordinating assistance, if requested by Japan” and that two international treaties are applicable in these situations: the Convention on Assistance in Case of a Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency (CACNARE) and the Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident (CENNA). (Id.) Amano further commented that “the IAEA´s role under this system includes helping States to conduct an initial assessment, transmitting requests for assistance and information to other States and liaising with relevant international organizations,” such as the United Nations and the World Health Organization, “which are working in close cooperation.” (Id.)

The IAEA has therefore established a Response and Assistance Network to secure and coordinate help from IAEA Member States. The Network is also a vehicle through which the IAEA can provide medical help, advice on emergency response, as well as support in technical areas such as radiation surveys and environmental sampling and the recovery of missing or misplaced radioactive sources. (Id.)

CACNARE came into force on February 26, 1987. It has 68 signatories and 105 parties (IAEA website (last visited Mar. 17, 2011)). CENNA entered into force on October 27, 1986, and has 109 parties and 69 signatories (IAEA website (last visited Mar. 17, 2011)). Among other relevant documents related to nuclear safety and security found on the IAEA website are:

Another role of the IAEA is to establish international standards on nuclear safety and security. One section of its website is devoted to this effort. Among some of the standards currently under development (many of them are being revised or extended) are:

DS [Draft Standard] 44 – Criteria for Use in Planning Response to Nuclear and Radiological Emergencies DPP [Document Preparation Profile] 44;

DS371 – Storage of Spent Fuel DPP371;

DS407 – Criticality Safety for Facilities and Activities Handling Fissionable Material DPP407;

DS413 – Safety of Nuclear Power Plants: Commissioning and Operation DPP413 and DS414 – Safety of Nuclear Power Plants: Design DPP414;

DS424 – Establishing a Safety Infrastructure for a National Nuclear Power Programme DPP424;

DS426 – Periodic Safety Review of Nuclear Power Plants DPP426;

DS432 – Radiation Protection of the Public and the Environment DPP432;

DS433 – Site Survey and Site Selection for Nuclear Installations DPP433; and

DS440 – Design [of] Auxiliary Systems [and Supporting Systems] in Nuclear Power Plants DPP440.

DS44 may be of particular interest. It states that during the development of the document on requirements for emergency preparedness and the relevant safety guide “numerous technical aspects of emergency planning and response have been identified that are not addressed by existing IAEA guidance.” (DPP44, supra.) The draft standard goes on to state it would be beneficial to formally review and/or incorporate guidance on the relevant issues into a revised and extended 1994 Safety Guide (Safety Series 109). It lists the following issues, among others:

  • There is no guidance currently within the Safety Standards Series that addresses decision-making in the pre-release or early phase of an accident at a major facility in the face of large uncertainties.
  • No generic intervention levels were given for surface contamination of people, objects, animal foodstuffs, or events involving small areas or urban environments.
  • There is a need to strengthen the clarification provided in the Safety Guide on the distinction between planning for response and response itself and to extend it to precautionary protective actions.
  • There is no existing guidance in the Safety Standards Series on the methodology for performing hazard assessment for emergency planning purposes of selecting emergency planning zones or the level of preparedness needed (determination of the threat category).
  • There needs to be more explicit recognition of the importance of psycho-social effects and the need for coordinated response mechanisms.
  • Safety Series No. 109 was published before the International Basic Safety Standards for Protection Against Ionizing Radiation and for the Safety of Radiation Sources (1996) (Safety Series No. 115) and certain minor inconsistencies in terminology could benefit from clarification.
  • No guidance is provided on assessing the effectiveness of decontamination and other mitigation actions or on the management of the medical treatment of exposed individuals or populations. (DPP44, supra.)

Therefore, the Draft Standard states, “[t]he proposed revision to Safety Series No. 109 would … have as a fundamental objective the provision of nuclear safety and radiation protection guidance on the criteria to be used in planning response to nuclear or radiological emergencies.” (Id.)