Statement by H.E. Mr. Tsuneo Nishida
Permanent Representative of Japan to the United Nations
On the occasion of the 25th Anniversary of the Chernobyl Disaster
At the meeting to discuss the theme
“Nuclear Power: History Revisited”
26 April 2011
Excellencies, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,
First of all, I believe it is particularly meaningful to hold this meeting to discuss the theme “Nuclear Power: History Revisited” here in the United Nations Headquarters on the very day that marks the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl accident.
Secondly, I would like to express my sincere gratitude and respect to all those who have contributed to organize this important event, and in particular to the Permanent Mission of Ukraine.
Since the occurrence of the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the Government of Japan and the Japanese private sector have financially supported various activities aimed at assisting the affected areas and people, including those that provide medical treatment. The Government of Japan has also contributed approximately 86 million US dollars to the Chernobyl Shelter Fund and the Nuclear Safety Account.
On 11 March, eastern Japan was hit hard by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake. It is now doing its utmost to recover from both the general devastation and the accident at the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Station caused by the earthquake and the subsequent tsunami. Acknowledging how important it is to continue to be transparent and accountable to the international community, I am here today to explain the current situation at the Power Station and the steps that Japan has taken in response to the accident.
The recent disaster caused by the earthquake and tsunami was the most catastrophic natural disaster that Japan has faced since the end of the Second World War. In response to this disaster, over 130 countries and more than 30 international organizations have expressed their willingness to offer assistance to Japan. The generous assistance from the international community and the sense of solidarity among the community have strongly encouraged the people of Japan to overcome the great difficulties they face and to make progress. I would like to take this opportunity to express my heartfelt gratitude to the international community for all that it has done for Japan.
(The importance of nuclear safety)
Regrettably, the accident at the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Station resulted in renewing our understanding on the importance of nuclear safety. According to the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES), the accident is now assessed as the most serious. Japan deeply regrets the occurrence of an accident at such a scale and takes this extremely seriously. Currently, in its effort to settle the nuclear power plant accident, Japan is being strongly supported by the international community, including IAEA and other international organizations. The Government of Japan, in close cooperation with the international community, will continue to make all the effort it can to resolve these challenges as soon as possible.
(The causes of the accident at the Fukushima Dai-ichi)
Allow me, first of all, to point out the causes of the accident. After the enormous earthquake hit units 1, 2 and 3 of the nuclear power station, all three automatically shut down. The units’ cooling systems were designed to automatically cool down the reactors and the pools of spent fuel after such a shut-down. However, the power failure caused by the earthquake and the breakdown of the emergency electric generators caused by the tsunami hindered the operation of those systems.
(The current situation of the accident and Japan’s response to it)
Hence, it was understood that the most urgent task was to find alternative means to cool down the reactors and the spent fuels. We have been injecting water into the reactors and the pools by using various methods. At the same time, we have been making every effort to restore power supply and the cooling systems. We have also been taking steps to stop the leakage of water containing radioactive substances into the sea and to dispose of the contaminated water collected in the facilities.
Our top priority at the moment is to work towards the earliest possible settlement of this situation. As I mentioned earlier, we are mobilizing all the resources we have to achieve this goal. We are giving primary consideration to the safety and health of the people, particularly the people residing in the vicinity of the nuclear power station. From this standpoint, we are striving to prevent further diffusion of radioactive substances.
On 12 April, based on its own reassessment, Japan concluded that the accident at the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Station corresponded to Level 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES) and publicly announced its conclusion.
I must, first of all, stress that this conclusion is neither a result nor a demonstration of a worsening situation at the power plant. Rather, it is the result of our latest calculation and the application of that calculation to international criteria, which was based on newly obtained data that enabled the calculation of the total release of radioactive substances.
Secondly, it must also be noted that most of the radioactive substances were released in the first few days of the accident and that the level of airborne radiation has gradually declined since then. For example, in Tokyo, while the airborne radiation has never reached the level that would cause health issues, the level has declined steadily and current data show that the level has returned to normal. We will continue to monitor the levels of radioactive substances.
In comparison with the Chernobyl accident, in terms of what caused the accident and what actually happened in the accident, the accident at the Fukushima Dai-ichi Power Station is distinct from that at Chernobyl.
First of all, whereas the reactor exploded in the Chernobyl accident, the reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi automatically shut down. There have been no large-scale fires on-site and the release of radioactive substances has been limited. The IAEA is also of the view that the two accidents are different in light of the points that I have just described.
Secondly, the total amount of radioactive substances released from the Fukushima Dai-ichi at present is estimated to be far less than that of Chernobyl.
Thirdly, in the Fukushima Dai-ichi accident, there have been no cases of radiation exposure causing death and none of the people living nearby the Fukushima Dai-ichi have suffered health issues caused by the increased radiation levels.
International organizations, including International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), International Maritime Organization (IMO) and World Health Organization (WHO), have made objective assessments that excessive measures, such as the imposition of general travel restrictions towards Japan, are not necessary. I wish to convey the request of the Government of Japan for all States to maintain their patience based on these credible assessments and scientific evidence.
(Distribution of information)
Regarding the accident, Japan will continue to do its utmost to distribute the latest information in a timely manner by making use of various means, including notifications to the IAEA, briefings to diplomatic delegations in Tokyo, and dissemination of information online through the website of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the websites of the Japanese embassies. With a view to maximizing our transparency, we will continue to promptly provide accurate information to the international community.
In response to instructions from Prime Minister Naoto Kan on 12 April, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) issued a “Roadmap towards Restoration from the Accident at Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Station” on the afternoon of 17 April 2011. In the roadmap, TEPCO sets forth two steps. Step one is “Radiation dose in steady decline” which is to be achieved in approximately three months. Step two is “Release of radioactive materials under control and radiation dose significantly held down” which is to be achieved in the range of three to six months after the phase of Step one.
With this roadmap, the Government of Japan hopes to proceed from the “emergency response” phase to the “planned and stable action” phase, which aims at settling the situation in an organized manner.
Our short term priority is to bring the situation under control as soon as possible. We, nevertheless, are thoroughly committed to examining this accident and sharing the knowledge and the experiences we gain from the accident with the international community in an open and transparent manner. In connection to this, we recognize that the IAEA Ministerial Conference to be held from 20 to 24 June in Vienna will provide an extremely important occasion to discuss these issues. Japan hopes to build on our lessons learned from the Fukushima Dai-ichi accident in close cooperation with the IAEA. In close consultations with Member States, Japan is strongly committed to do its utmost to contribute to the international efforts toward enhanced nuclear safety.
I thank you for your attention.