In the days and weeks after the nuclear accident at Fukushima, many journalists, policy-makers and members of the public turned to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for an independent look at the crisis as it unfolded.
Unfortunately, most observers agreed that the IAEA wasn’t really up for the task. Its remit as a non-proliferation watchdog means that the agency must watch its tongue, and its daily briefings following the accident usually consisted of a baffling array of numbers devoid of context or interpretation. The agency’s seven-point International Nuclear Emergency Scale (INES) didn’t help either, especially as Japan was allowed to rate itself.
At the time, Nature called for the member states of the IAEA to strengthen the agency’s ability to communicate in times of crisis. Yesterday, the states approved a nuclear safety action plan that gives the IAEA more freedom to speak out in times of crisis. Among other things, it calls on the IAEA:
…to provide Member States, international organizations and the general public with timely, clear, factually correct, objective and easily understandable information during a nuclear emergency on its potential consequences, including analysis of available information and prognosis of possible scenarios based on evidence, scientific knowledge and the capabilities of Member States.
The agency will also undertake a peer review of safety practices, and consider reforming the confusing INES scale. About time, too.