VIENNA (Reuters)–The International Atomic Energy Agency said on Thursday Ukraine and Armenia were falling behind in ensuring their nuclear plants were fully millennium-compliant–but major safety systems were in order.
"There is…concern that some nuclear power plant operators are falling behind in their efforts to complete the necessary Y2K tasks owing to late actions and a shortage of funds," the director-general of the world’s nuclear watchdog–Mohamed ElBaradei–said in a speech to its board of governors.
"We believe that Y2K remediation and recovery actions on systems and equipment with a direct and immediate bearing on the safety of nuclear power plants have been carried out–thus mitigating the likelihood of complications at year’s end," he added.
But work had still to be done on other systems of no immediate impact on safety at the end of the year–but which could be important in the long term. "It is therefore essential that Y2K actions be continued in 2000," Elbaradei said.
IAEA spokesman David Kyd said ElBaradei was referring mainly to Ukraine–site of the world’s worst nuclear accident at Chernobyl in 1986–and Armenia–which also has Soviet-era reactors.
"The most significant are Ukraine and Armenia," Kyd told Reuters. "They are struggling because of financial constraints. They have fixed the main safety-relevant systems but there are subsidiary systems such as radiation monitors that will not be fixed in time."
Radiation monitors were not a central system but were important for drawing operators’ attention to unusual levels of radioactivity.
The IAEA was asking countries in Western Europe and North America to donate funds so the necessary upgrades could be made but the sums needed were modest–Kyd said.
It was not vital for the countries concerned to complete all the necessary work by January 1 but it was important it should be done as early as possible in the new year.
"They haven’t had enough money and time to put all the problems right by January 1 so we’re encouraging them to do it as quickly as possible thereafter–not because we’re expecting something really catastrophic to happen–but it’s just not good for those systems to be a question mark," Kyd said.
The potential for computer problems as a result of the switch to 2000 was not limited to the start of the year.
"It doesn’t finish on January 1–alas," Kyd said. "Because next year is a leap year–you could have a problem on February 29 or March 1 or on December 31."