Strengthening of radiation safety
The work programme on radiation safety has as its major objectives the development of a unified set of consensus safety standards and provisions for their implementation in Member States. The main areas of work contributing to these objectives are: the development and harmonization of radiation safety standards, including regulations for the safe transport of radioactive material, and for the safety and security of radiation sources; provisions for the specification and implementation of emergency procedures; practical assistance services; and training and information exchange. Another important effort has been support for a technical co-operation model project on strengthening radiation and waste safety infrastructures in over 50 Member States.
Work focused on the preparation of a structure plan for documents for consideration by the Radiation Safety Standards Advisory Committee (RASSAC), which held its first two meetings during the year. Considerable progress has been made in developing key documents within this structure which are supportive of the International Basic Safety Standards for Protection Against Ionizing Radiation and for the Safety of Sources (BSS) (jointly sponsored by the FAO, IAEA, ILO, OECD/NEA, PAHO and WHO) published in final form in 1996. A review of the documents was completed as a result of which a number of existing documents were found to be obsolete, others were found to be in need of revision for compliance with the BSS, and new documents were proposed. The structure plan was approved at the second meeting of RASSAC in July.
In order to strengthen radiation safety infrastructures in Member States and also support a technical co-operation model project, action plans was adopted. These plans cover: laws and regulations and the establishment of a regulatory authority, implementation of occupational and public dose controls, including environmental monitoring, medical dose control systems; emergency planning; transport safety control systems; and support services and personnel development. Priority was given to the establishment of a system for notification and licensing. All of these areas are monitored to ensure consistency across the 53 States involved in the model project. In a separate but related initiative, information on the safety infrastructure status and needs of other countries continued to be maintained so that the situation in the 93 countries currently receiving or having received radiation safety related assistance is known.
The open ended group of legal and technical experts set up to develop a draft convention on the safety of radioactive waste management met three times during the year. The convention is modelled on the Convention on Nuclear Safety and is also on an 'incentive' basis. It contains a reporting requirement to a meeting of Contracting Parties and relies for its implementation on a peer review process. The convention is intended to apply to all radioactive wastes and implements the rules set out in Safety Fundamentals No. 111-F, The Principles of Radioactive Waste Management. It also includes the provisions of the Agency's Code of Practice on the International Transboundary Movement of Radioactive Waste (INFCIRC/386). Areas of difficulty in the development of the convention have included the extent to which it should apply to the safety of spent fuel management, the arrangements by which wastes from military and defence activities should be brought under the scope of the convention and the provisions to be applied to discharges of radioactive materials to the environment.
Meetings were convened during the year to arrive at a technical consensus on material to be incorporated in three interrelated Safety Guides, one covering occupational radiation protection and the other two specific to protection against external radiation or incorporated radionuclides. The Agency's co-sponsorship with the OEcd/NEA of the Information System on Occupational Exposure continued; by the end of the year nuclear power plants from eight Member States not members of the OECD and regulatory authorities from four of these States were participating in this system.
Several CRPs were initiated on occupational dose monitoring and assessment methods covering: external and internal exposure to radiation; intercomparisons for individual monitoring for external exposure to photons; calculational intercomparisons of internal dose assessment methods; and intercomparison of in vivo counting systems using a reference Asian phantom. Guidance on measures and procedures for handling accidents resulting in radionuclide contamination of individuals, issued in 1986 and 1988, was revised. Some Member States have developed schemes to compensate workers who may have cancer as a result of exposure to radiation during their work. Information on techniques for making quantitative estimates of the probability of causation of cancer as a function of occupational radiation exposure was compiled and issued as a technical document. Since post-mortem measurements of long lived radionuclide content in human tissues can provide valuable information on the biokinetics of actinide elements, guidance on the establishment and use of related registries was prepared.
In April 1996, an international conference entitled 'One Decade after Chernobyl: Summing up the Consequences of the Accident', co-sponsored by the European Commission and WHO, was held in Vienna. The conference was organized in co-operation with the United Nations, UNESCO, UNSCEAR, FAO and the OECD/ NEA. It was presided over by Germany's Federal Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety and attended by officials and members of government, notably from Belarus, Ukraine and the Russian Federation. The conclusions of the conference provide an authoritative assessment of the consequences as they are now understood. They have been disseminated widely, especially through public information booklets.
A major area of work concerned the assessment of the radiological situation and the need for remedial action in locations contaminated as a result of nuclear weapons testing. Two assessments, at Semipalatinsk in Kazakstan and at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands, were completed during the year.
The radiological legacy of the French nuclear weapon testing programme at the Mururoa and Fangataufa Atolls is the subject of a study begun in 1996 by the Agency at the request of the Government of France. The goal is to assess the present and potential future radiological situation at the atolls and the involved areas. France has offered to provide information and the data needed to carry out the assessments. An International Advisory Committee (IAC) comprising experts from ten Member States and from the European Commission, the South Pacific Forum, UNSCEAR and WHO provided scientific guidance to the Agency. Two Task Groups supported by a number of Working Groups are carrying out the scientific assessments. The IAC met in Vienna in April, in Suva, Fiji, in December at the headquarters of the South Pacific Forum and, subsequently, in Papeete, French Polynesia.
This assessment also makes use of the large amount of data collected over many years by France on the levels of radioactive material in the environment of that region. Since this very comprehensive database must be validated, an independent sampling and surveillance campaign co-ordinated by the Agency's Laboratories at Seibersdorf and IAEA-MEL was carried out at the atolls during July and samples were given to an international network of laboratories for analysis. Furthermore, an independent estimate of the inventory of residual radioactive material in the cavities, and of the distribution of nuclides between the lava and rubble within each cavity, was completed in 1996.
As part of the reorganization of the safety standards preparation and approval process, the Standing Advisory Group for the Safe Transport of Radioactive Material was replaced by the Transport Safety Standards Advisory Committee (TRANSSAC), which met in February. Its first task was to approve the revised Regulations for the Safe Transport of Radioactive Material. These were subsequently endorsed by the Advisory Commission on Safety Standards (ACSS) and approved by the Board of Governors in September, and published as the first title in the new Safety Standards series. In parallel, work proceeded on the revision of the accompanying explanatory and advisory material, which has been combined in a single document intended for issue as a Safety Guide.
Considerable streamlining and combining of documents on emergency planning and technical response has taken place with the agreement of RASSAC. A review of the Emergency Response Unit was completed with evaluations of the effectiveness of the new procedures during two major international exercises, one held in May in Austria ('Viribus Unitis') and the other in November in Switzerland ('INEX-2 SWISS'). The resulting revised internal procedures and improved means of communication will significantly enhance the Agency's ability to fulfil its obligations under the Conventions on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident and on Assistance in the Case of a Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency.
Publications on accidents with major radiation sources involving injuries or deaths continue to add to knowledge on how to avoid such accidents in the future. During 1996, reports on accidents at Nezvizh (Israel) and Hanoi (Viet Nam) were published and those on accidents in Estonia and at the facility at Tomsk-7 in the Russian Federation were completed. To synthesize and make the conclusions more generally applicable, three reports on 'lessons learned' from accidents at different types of facilities are being prepared. One such report on accidents in industrial irradiation facilities was published in 1996. A major aspect of this work is the contribution to improving the safety of sources in Member States, especially through the technical co-operation model project on strengthening radiation and waste safety infrastructures. Practical procedures for inspecting and carrying out safety assessments on all types of sources were prepared and a number of training materials developed.
Personnel monitoring and other services, including in-house training, continued to be provided to Agency staff involved in safeguards activities, to other Agency personnel and to field experts. One mission to Armenia was undertaken to investigate a possible case of overexposure and another went to the Vinca research reactor near Belgrade to evaluate the safety of the spent fuel pool.