Seeds for Strengthening Nuclear Safety

IAEA's Site and External Events Design Review Services

Of all of the energy-producing technologies available, nuclear power raises the most concerns from public interest groups and in the communities where a new nuclear power plant will be built. Yet it is one of the safest technologies available for slowing and delaying global climate change; its expansion is seen worldwide as a needed alternative to the fossil fuels that feed climate change and to help mitigate its destructive and disruptive outcomes.

However, nuclear power plants are complex systems, and among other things, they can be vulnerable to natural disasters. Combine powerful natural forces such as volcanic eruptions, floods, earthquakes, avalanches and severe weather with nuclear technology and you have a situation in which nuclear accidents can and do happen. Even though the probability of a serious nuclear accident is low, the consequences can be catastrophic - proof that the siting, design, construction and management of a nuclear power plant are more than just minor technological feats.

When selecting a site to construct a nuclear power plant, States need to begin early to ensure that the site(s) chosen factor in a thorough evaluation of the natural and manmade environment surrounding it. Mainly because identifying hazards well before selecting the nuclear power plant design is vital to ensuring that it can safely withstand those forces inherent within the environment in which it will eventually be placed.

Site and design safety of nuclear installations has received substantial attention by the IAEA and its Member States due to the occurrence of strong earthquakes and tsunamis, some of which challenged existing nuclear installations beyond their original design levels.

The increased demands for site safety assistance to countries introducing nuclear power and the increased concerns of States regarding the occurrence of extreme natural events, led the IAEA in 2008 to establish the International Seismic Safety Centre (ISSC) to intensively monitor and research these extreme events. The ISSC now serves as the global focal point for design safety against natural and human-induced hazards for nuclear installations worldwide, pooling expert knowledge and experience to share with the international nuclear community, and also assists nuclear operators and regulators in strengthening site safety in relation to these phenomena.

In 2009, the ISSC developed the Site and External Events Design (SEED) review service. SEED is a bundled service designed to assist States through the different stages of site selection, site assessment and design of structures, systems and components against the site specific external and internal hazards. Upon request from a Member State, the SEED review service provides an independent review of the site evaluation and the designed safety of the nuclear installation against the demands of natural and human induced external and internal hazards. Those Member States that have utilized the SEED review services have benefited significantly by identifying site hazards in the early stages of their nuclear power projects, and they include: Bangladesh, Czech Republic, Indonesia, Jordan, Romania, Turkey and Viet Nam.

This week (27-31 January 2014) in Vienna, the ISSC will hold a five-day Plenary Meeting of the International Seismic Safety Centre's Programme to share information on the progress of existing activities and the plans for future activities conducted under its extrabudgetary programme, as well as on national experience, good practices and necessary support in Member States relating to the protection of nuclear installations against extreme external events.

All Member States are invited to send experts from regulatory bodies, utilities, technical support organizations, vendors and research and development organizations to attend this meeting as well as to actively participate in the ISSC's work in protecting nuclear installations against external hazards.

Participants should visit the IAEA Meetings web page regularly for new information on the meeting. Participants will also find information on services at the Vienna International Centre (VIC) and general information here.

Last update: 10 September 2014