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The East: Nations Support Atomic Energy Agency's Agreements

By Nigel Glass

Vienna, 7 October 1997 (RFE/RL) -- The 41st conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna closed on Friday after a week during which delegates had expressed unanimous appreciation of the performance of what is one of the most successful of the United Nation's agencies.

Countries of Central and Eastern Europe queued up to support the IAEA agreements and protocols on controlling nuclear waste, monitoring non-proliferation of weapons, and civil liability for nuclear damage.

Jerzy Niewodniczanski, president of Poland's National Atomic Energy Agency, announced that his country would sign all three agreements at the conference.

Speaking to the conference, he looked back on a worldwide industry which had grown from a single power station in 1956, to the 442 units operating world-wide to provide 17 percent of the planet's electrical energy. Niewodniczanski recalled that it was at the end of the decade up to 1975, during which between 12 and 35 plants were commissioned every year, that the urgent need for the agency's technical leadership emerged. He pointed out that it was the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl accidents in 1986 that provided the impetus for international legislation.

Mr. Yuriy Kostenko, Ukraine's Minister for Environmental Protection and Nuclear Safety, paid tribute to American assistance in the sarcophagus project for the safe encasement of Unit 4 at Chernobyl, and looked forward to the closure of the entire Chernobyl plant at the end of the century.

But he pointed out that because of the country's demand for electricity, closure of Chernobyl could only be achieved by financing compensating power units at Khmelnitsky and Rivne. Mr. Kostenko said that Ukraine was trying to create a cost effective electricity market, but that international financial institutions had yet to agree to help.

Ukraine welcomed the IAEA's role in promoting a consensus on the safety requirements of old Soviet design power plants, but said that the problem could not be solved in a short time because of economic factors.

The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia asserted out that it was essential that countries operating power plants at critical low levels of safety cooperated with the agency. Nase Toshevski, Under Secretary at the country's Ministry of Science, said that international cooperation over radiation protection was a top priority for the republic.

He said that countries like Macedonia, which were undergoing transition, needed to develop new approaches towards energy planning which took the different options into account.

Lithuania is committed to nuclear energy with 84 percent of its electricity produced from the RBMK Ignalina plant. Minister for Foreign Affairs, Algirdas Saudargas, warned that the country would soon be facing problems over the long term storage of spent fuel and would need international assistance.

In the face of difficulty in obtaining outside insurance for the plant, he said that as a result of his country's policy of transparency, the international nuclear community knew more about the Ignalina plant than any other RBMK reactor. The plant was subjected to an IAEA Safety Analysis Report last year.

Croatia, who shares the Krsko nuclear plant with Slovenia, admitted it had not achieved a satisfactory level of technical cooperation with the IAEA because of ongoing internal adjustments in the emerging country. Ambassador Ana Marija Besker welcomed the opportunities offered by IAEA technical help towards integrating the country into the mainstream of nuclear activity.

Slovakia mounted a plea for more international confidence in the safety measures instituted in the redesign being applied to their Mochovce nuclear power plant, the first unit of which is due to be completed next year. The Minister for economy, Karol Cesnek, pointed out that the country was heavily reliant on nuclear energy with more than 50 percent of the country's requirement coming from that source.