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The Code of Conduct on the Safety of Research Reactors

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CEN Lo Aguirre Research Reactor in Chile. (Credit: K. Hansen/IAEA)

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The Code of Conduct on the Safety of Research Reactors was adopted by the IAEA General Conference on 24 September 2004.

The Code establishes "best practice" guidelines for the licensing, construction and operation of research reactors. At its core, "the safety of the public, the environment and the workers," said IAEA Director of Nuclear Installation Safety, Mr. Ken Brockman.

Research reactors were excluded from the Convention on Nuclear Safety when it was drawn-up in the early 1990s. The need for an overarching Code of Conduct came to a head in a resolution at the 2000 IAEA General Conference, prompted by safety concerns as many of the worlds' research reactors approached the end of their originally planned lifespans. Increased fears of terrorist threats following the 11 September 2001 attacks in the United States also helped to fuel desire for a Code of Conduct, Mr. Brockman said. Just less than half of the world's 272 research reactors still operate using highly enriched uranium - a key ingredient for a nuclear bomb.

The Code is a non-binding international legal agreement, where States determine their own level of commitment to its guidance. The Code was derived from more detailed international standards that have been promulgated for the safe day-to-day operation, construction, shutdown and decommission of research reactors, Mr. Brockman said. "It will pave the way for the continued evolution of these standards," he said.

The Agency has already carried out numerous safety and security missions at research reactors which, among other things, has helped to improve the security infrastructure at reactors.