Nuclear industry calls for greater role in security, safety
Global energy leaders on Friday called on the industry to take on a greater role in bolstering nuclear security and safety as the world must cope with the threat of natural disasters and terrorists elements.
In a joint nine-point statement announced at the two-day Nuclear Industry Summit in Seoul, 118 global atomic energy companies and international organizations outlined practical measures that can be pursued by the industry to enhance public confidence in fission power generation and ensure growth of atomic power down the road.
The statement is to be recommended to leaders of 58 nations and international organizations who will participate in the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit scheduled for early next week, the state-run Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co. (KHNP), the event's organizer, said.
Companies such as KHNP, France's Areva SA, China National Nuclear Corp. and the World Nuclear Association endorsed the promotion of an upgraded security culture and cooperation in research to develop a high density, low enriched uranium fuel for small research reactors.
They also stressed support for International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) guidelines to cut back on the use of highly enriched uranium, countermeasures against cyber terrorism, exchange of best practices and integrated security and safety for nuclear installations and materials.
Industry leaders added that close global cooperative dialogue must be maintained within the atomic energy sector, while established operators should take action to assist newcomers in nuclear power generation to follow the IAEA's recommendations for building the necessary infrastructure for safe and secure use of atomic energy.
Beyond the official statement, industry experts said there may be a need for an independent safety organization to regulate the nuclear industry as a whole.
In regards to taking all possible steps to strengthen nuclear security and safety, Korea's Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik, who addressed the forum earlier in the day, said the country is fully committed to promoting the peaceful use of atomic power.
"Seoul will share its accumulated knowledge and experience in the nuclear power sector with the international community," he said.
The policymaker said the country, as a leading operator of nuclear power plants, will do its part to promote knowledge and information sharing between governments, businesses and the general public.
The need for more information-sharing was echoed by Areva SA chief executive Luc Oursel and World Institute for Nuclear Security (WINS) executive director Roger Howsley. Both called for a free flow of information and said there is a need to do away with the excessive secrecy within the sector.
Experts said following Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster last year, there is a pressing requirement to raise public confidence if the nuclear industry is to move forward.
The Fukushima meltdown was triggered by a massive earthquake and ensuing tsunami, and is considered the worst nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl tragedy.
Oursel said while last year's disaster raised concerns about the safety of nuclear power, countries around the world have resumed reactor building projects. He predicted global nuclear capacity, which currently stands at 400 gigawatts, will grow to 600 gigawatts by 2030.
He said the nuclear renaissance has not been seriously affected, although there has been renewed emphasis on safety and security. He said the French nuclear power company aims to invest 8 billion euros (11.97 trillion won) over the next five years to build up its capabilities and know-how, with a large portion set aside for atomic safety.
The WINS official said threat of terrorism and natural disasters have raised the need for more coordination across the board.
Howsley said with Korea transforming itself as a presence in the atomic power building sector, it has to dedicate more to the issue of safety and security.
"South Korea and other countries must learn to think progressively on safety," he said, adding that the international organized by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 2008, will start a concerted training program in 2013. The program could augment Seoul's existing safety program run by the Korea Institute of Nuclear Nonproliferation and Control, he said.
Following the official debate sessions, KHNP president Kim Jong-shin said in a press conference that the industry summit represents a positive move to build up global security and safety in the nuclear field to counter threats posed by terrorism as well as natural disasters.
He also said that the industry continues to learn from mistakes from the Three Mile Island incident in 1979 to the recent Fukushima tragedy, and most recently, the mishap at South Korea's Gori-1 that was shut down earlier this month. The Gori incident was caused by technicians mistakenly cutting power to a reactor and then concealing the breakdown of an emergency generator in February.
The KHNP, meanwhile, said 200 participants were present for the industry summit from energy companies from around the world and international agencies including the IAEA, the Nuclear Energy Agency, the World Association of Nuclear Operators and the World Nuclear Association.
South Korea said that the industry summit is expected to allow the international community to gauge the strength of South Korea's atomic power industry and highlight the importance of nuclear energy safety, the KHNP said, adding it could also promote Seoul's efforts to export its knowhow in nuclear power generation.
Korea which first started operating a commercial nuclear reaction in the late 1970s currently has 21 units in operations with seven under construction. The country sealed a deal with the United Arab Emirates a nuclear power plant for the Middle East country.