Nuclear Safety

The Convention on Nuclear Safety Gao ID: T-RCED-99-127 March 17, 1999

The Convention on Nuclear Safety is a multilateral treaty to improve civil nuclear power safety. This testimony summarizes (1) the Convention's scope and objectives, (2) the process for reviewing compliance with the Convention, (3) the dissemination of information related to the Convention's proceedings, and (4) the costs to implement the Convention. GAO has issued two reports that track the Convention's development and implementation. (See GAO/RCED-93-153, May 1993, and GAO/RCED-97-39, Jan. 1997.)

GAO noted that: (1) the Convention on Nuclear Safety, which focuses on civilian nuclear power reactors, is viewed by the United States as one of the chief policy instruments to encourage countries with Soviet-designed nuclear reactors to improve the safety of their reactors; (2) the Convention seeks to achieve its safety objectives through countries' adherence to general safety principles, such as establishing an independent body to oversee safety, rather than binding technical standards; (3) the Convention does not provide sanctions for noncompliance nor require the closing of unsafe nuclear reactors; (4) the Convention's peer review process is intended to establish a forum where groups of countries will comment on reports that are self-assessments of their nuclear programs and thereby encourage countries to improve the safety of these programs; (5) however, the Convention does not specify the form and content of the peer review process nor the quality of countries' reports; therefore, it is unclear how peer pressure will accomplish change or even whether sufficient information will be contained in the reports; (6) although public dissemination of information about the countries' progress in meeting the terms of the Convention can play a role in influencing compliance, it is uncertain how much information from the peer review meetings will be available to the public; (7) Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) officials told GAO that the Convention does not specifically provide for the kind of openness that they would prefer, but they believe that over time, more information will be made available to the public; (8) in January 1997, GAO reported that the United States estimated that it could spend up to $1.1 million through fiscal year 1999 to prepare for and attend the first review meeting; and (9) however, according to an NRC official, the actual costs for this time period will be significantly less because U.S. officials have not participated in the full range of meetings and activities to date related to the Convention.

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