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26 April 2011 - Conference "Nuclear Energy : History revisited" - Statement by Mr Martin Briens, Deputy Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations

Deputy Secretary General,


Distinguished colleagues,

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is an honour to have the opportunity to address this Conference.

We are gathered here today to "revisit history" and look back at the world’s most serious nuclear accident.

Twenty-five years have gone by since the Chernobyl tragedy, and it remains particularly present in our memories. Several hundred thousands people were affected by high radiation doses. Today, our thoughts go first to those people who continue to suffer from the consequences of the catastrophe, in particular in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. We are also deeply aware of the health, environmental, economic and social consequences of the catastrophe.

It took 25 years of efforts to be able to announce that a new page was turned. Since 1986, radiation levels in the environment have fallen by a factor of several hundred, due to natural processes and countermeasures. Most of the land contaminated with radionuclides has been made safe and returned to economic activity. The Chernobyl accident also led to a great step forward in international cooperation in the field of nuclear safety, and nuclear civil liability.

But today, as we remember the anniversary of the Chernobyl tragedy, we have the feeling of reviving history. Japan and the international community are facing the grave unfolding events at the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plant, caused by an unprecedented natural disaster on March 11th. I would like to express again our solidarity with the people of Japan. France is strongly committed to helping Japan deal with the consequences of the accident.

The crisis at Fukushima Daiichi is still continuing. It needs to be assessed and the appropriate lessons will have to be learned.

— The Fukushima accident has first inspired us with a sense of failure; as we were not able, 25 years after Chernobyl, to avoid a new nuclear accident. It has raised many questions about whether nuclear energy can ever be made sufficiently safe.

— Yet, despite its tragic nature, the Fukushima disaster does not bring us back 25 years ago. The treatment of this crisis demonstrates that a number of lessons have been learned. Let me mention the rapid evacuation of people by the Japanese authorities and their constant concern not to expose workers to excessive doses of radioactivity; the transparency with which people worldwide have been informed about the movement of contaminated air masses; the international mobilization, with the IAEA’s Incident and Emergency Centre at its heart, to immediately provide Japan with expertise, protection, and intervention means.

In Kiev last week, French Prime Minister Fillon proposed to establish an emergency collective intervention force, to be deployed specifically in response to a nuclear accident, as we did within the European Union for major forest fires. He expressed France’s readiness to make an active contribution to such mechanism. He also proposed to establish an international center for training in crisis management, with a view to promote best practices and most effective responses.

— The Fukushima disaster should not either let us fall into dogmatic opposition. The basic drivers behind the resurgence of interest in nuclear power, particularly in emerging countries, have not changed as a result of Fukushima. These factors include rising global energy demand, as well as concerns about climate change, volatile fossil fuel prices and energy security. Nuclear power will remain an important option for many countries. It is thus essential that we continue to work on improving nuclear safety, in particular through risk prevention, improved technology, and sharing of knowledge.

So today, we are also gathered here to look ahead, to a world in which nuclear power plants could be as safe as human ingenuity can make them.

— Operating civilian nuclear power plants is a huge responsibility. It is a political, economic and energetic choice, which requires a long-term commitment to develop the necessary human, technical and financial resources. We should never forget that the use of nuclear power is impossible without public confidence in the reliability of safety systems. We owe it to our citizens, our neighbours, our collective security, and also future generations, to practice and maintain the highest standards of nuclear safety, security, non-proliferation and environmental protection.

France has always defended the principle of a nuclear industry subject to the highest safety requirements. We have pursued our civilian nuclear power policy for over 40 years now; we have continually sought technical excellence and the highest level of vigilance.

- The Fukushima accident reminds us once again, as stressed by Secretary General Ban Ki Moon this morning, that nuclear safety recognizes no national borders. It is not simply a national issue; it is a collective concern. Nuclear safety requires the global community to work together.

It demonstrates that, despite the great progress made in the last 25 years, more needs to be done to ensure that the highest standards of nuclear safety become fully entrenched among all nuclear power plant operators, governments and regulators. We welcome in that regard the reaffirmation, in Kiev a few days ago, of our commitment to work cooperatively in the area of nuclear safety, with the aim of strengthening our collective capabilities to prevent and mitigate the occurrence of such accidents in the future.

With our European partners, we have agreed on a coordinated framework for conducting stress tests on all our nuclear power plants, with a system of peer review to ensure high quality and homogeneity.

Ladies and gentlemen,

- Over the next few months, we will have several opportunities to define the modalities of a strengthened international cooperation.

We will have the G8 Summit in May. Then on 8 June in Paris, a meeting of ministers and authorities responsible for nuclear safety, coming from G8 countries and other countries pursuing nuclear power programs. There will be also the International Conference on Safety organized by the IAEA in Vienna from June 20 to 24. And we welcome the intention of the Secretary General to hold a high-level meeting in September to discuss in depth the strengthening of nuclear safety at both the national and international levels.

It is our hope that these meetings will provide the international community with an opportunity to make ambitious commitments to implement the highest safety requirements worldwide, with a view to ensure that after Chernobyl, after Fukushima, we will never have to revive history once again.

I thank you.

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Organisation des Nations Unies Présidence de la République France Diplomatie La France à l'Office des Nations Unies à Genève Union Européenne Première réunion de l'ONU