15 March 2011 – The United Nations agency that coordinates global nuclear safety is sending an environmental monitoring team to Japan after the partial meltdown at reactors there, as its chief said today the situation differed from the world’s worst nuclear accident at Chernobyl 25 years ago.
“I continue to think that Chernobyl and these Fukushima reactors are different,” International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Yukiya Amano told a news briefing at its Vienna headquarters, after another explosion and fire dramatically shook the Fukushima power plant (photo) that was crippled by last week’s earthquake and tsunami, increasing the release of radiation.
He cited the fact that Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant reactors were shut down, a chain reaction is not talking place, the cause of the accident was a natural disaster, not a power output surge, and the Japanese reactors do not have a huge amount of graphite that can catch fire. “In all elements there are differences, and I continue to think the cases are different,” he stressed.
Just last week in a report to the Board of Governors of the 151-Member State agency, Mr. Amano noted that global nuclear safety has improved significantly since Chernobyl, when an estimated 8 million people in what is now Ukraine, Belarus and Russia were exposed to radiation, and thousands contracted thyroid cancer and other diseases.
Mr. Amano, who came to the news conference after briefing Member States, said he was setting up an agency coordinating team under his own leadership – “I felt I needed to raise the level of response on the part of the IAEA.” He also said he would soon send a small team of staff who have expertise in environmental monitoring at the request of the Japanese Government, which has said this is the area where the agency can be most helpful.
“This is the start, this is not the end,” he stressed, noting that the IAEA has already intensified its cooperation with other international organizations, including the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO), which can help coordinate global information on wind directions, showing where any radioactive clouds might be bound. The IAEA will discuss with the Japanese Government what other services it can provide.
Meanwhile, UN disaster assessment officials will tomorrow tour parts of Japan that received the brunt of Friday’s devastating earthquake and tsunami as they continue their efforts to help the country in what Prime Minister Naoto Kan has called its worst disaster since World War II.
The UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team, based in Tokyo to help with information management and international offers of aid, plans to send a reconnaissance mission to the prefectures of Fukushima and Miyagi, where more than 10,000 people, at least, are estimated to have died.
Upon request from a disaster-stricken country, an UNDAC team can be deployed within hours to carry out rapid assessment of priority needs and support national authorities and the UN resident coordinator to coordinate international relief on-site.
The General Assembly today observed a minute’s silence at the start of its session today in memory of those who had died and in a show of solidarity with the Japanese people.
For its part, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) pledged to help protect the youngsters affected by the catastrophe and provide critical services in the days ahead.
“As in all emergencies of such devastating magnitude, children are the most vulnerable,” UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said in a statement. “This double catastrophe has left the country and its friends stunned and bereaved, and new threats caused by the quake and its aftermath continue to be of utmost concern to us all.”
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