Verifying the CTBT -
an unprecedented technical undertaking Page-5
The accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant
A special panel discussion on the Fukushima nuclear power plant accident considered some of the issues that have been raised since then, such as greater sharing of data and expertise so that there would be a faster response if such an event were to occur again.
The session was moderated by BBC Newsnight science journalist Susan Watts, who announced that the focus would be on some of the benefits that could be drawn from this experience for the future. Panelists included Denis Flory, Deputy Director General at the Department of Nuclear Safety and Security at the IAEA, Roland Schenkel, former Director-General of the Joint Research Centre of the European Union, Wolfgang Weiss, Head of the Department of Radiation Protection and Health in Germany, Harri Toivonen, Director of Laboratory at the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority in Finland, and Matthias Auer, IMS Radionuclide Project Manager at the CTBTO.
Radionuclide data used to assess radiation risks
Weiss and Toivonen referred to the pressure from the media and concerned citizens in Germany and Finland regarding the amount of radiation emanating from Fukushima and how the authorities were responding to the situation. In Germany, the number of requests from the public increased from an average of 30,000 to 1.3 million a day. Weiss described Fukushima as a stress test for the CTBT verification regime. He praised the uniqueness of the IMS and the ‘first class, high level data’ provided by the CTBTO in real-time, which were used to assess health and environmental risks caused by radiation.
Wolfgang Weiss from the German radiation protection agency praised the uniqueness of the IMS and the ‘first class, high level data’ provided by the CTBTO in real-time, which were used to assess health and environmental risks caused by radiation.
Flory stated that less than an hour after the earthquake occurred, an emergency centre was activated which operated round the clock. The IAEA sent four monitoring teams to Japan so that an assessment could be made of the safety of the power plant and the radiological consequences. Data from the CTBTO and IAEA Member States were also made available. Daily briefings were held from 14 to 23 March.
Schenkel, who spoke in his personal capacity, expressed his frustration at the length of time national authorities took to provide journalists with information. He was also dissatisfied with nuclear safety standards.
Over 400 samples collected from radionuclide stations
Auer said that since the CTBT monitoring system has been designed primarily to detect nuclear tests, the Fukushima accident pushed the system to its limits: A total of 37 stations detected releases from Fukushima and more than 400 samples with multiple radionuclide detections were collected and then analyzed by the IDC. All of the system’s different functions were tested and it ‘proved that it was very well suited to tracking the global dispersions of the radiation cloud.‘
Greater data sharing
Questions from the floor addressed the need to share the data with the wider public. The German policy had been to assess the information before making it available to the public, Weiss explained. While it is important to keep people informed in order to maintain their trust, he stressed that “you don't just throw numbers at the public” as they are not interested in scientific uncertainties.
Nuclear safety issues
Questions were also posed about the level of nuclear safety and whether safety guidelines should be mandatory, to which Flory replied that legally binding or politically binding declarations will help improve safety and confidence in safety standards. Could a mechanism be put in place to ensure that safety radiation standards were adhered to? Weiss responded that well prepared realistic exercises need to be carried out in the future.