World's Nuclear Regulators Face Challenging, Changing Scene

Mr. Tomihiro Taniguchi, Head of IAEA Nuclear Safety and Security, addressing nuclear regulators at the IAEA conference in Moscow. (Photo Credit: V. Mouchkin/IAEA)

When you drive a German car in Japan or a Japanese car in Germany you are automatically assured that any of these vehicles conform to standards of safety, national and international, albeit with minor changes.

The same refers to many technologies, and nuclear power plants are no exception. However, the complexity of a nuclear power plant makes it dependent on key factors such as location, management practices and human behavior - all of which influence safety performance.

How can members of public and stakeholders be assured that a nuclear power plant or any enterprise that has to deal with radioactive material is run safely? This is a job for an independent oversight authority - the regulator.

In the words of IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei, "Being a regulator has always been tough. You are given the considerable responsibility of deciding whether someone else is competent and responsible enough to use radioactivity safely".

The world´s senior regulators from some 60 countries are meeting in Moscow, Russia, from 27 February - 3 March 2006 to scrutinize effective regulatory systems.

The key challenges they face are renewed global interest in the use of nuclear energy, increased threats to the security of nuclear installations and the need to closely link safety and security issues as well.

"Modern methods, coordinated actions on the basis of international cooperation are needed today in order to meet these challenges", said Konstantin Pulikovsky, Head of Russia´s Federal Service For Environment, Technology and Nuclear Oversight (Rosteckhnadzor), in his opening remarks to the conference.

Russia´s Service uses the IAEA´s Safety Standards as "a measure of best approach to ensure safety and licensing," Mr. Pulikovsky said. "This cooperation mutually enriches our common knowledge base."

Evolving Safety, Security Regime

For safety to be worthy of its goals it has to be global. The origins of the global safety regime can be traced back to the aftermath of the 1986 Chernobyl accident when worldwide consensus emerged on the need for effective international cooperation and the need to effectively separate nuclear power development from nuclear safety oversight functions. International legal instruments were developed, IAEA Safety Standards were improved and applied worldwide to enhance the global safety regime.

In a similar way, the development of a global nuclear security regime has been triggered by the 11 September 2001 attacks in the US and successive terrorist events in Europe and Asia.

As the IAEA Director General has noted: "These events gave rise to sweeping reviews of security measures in many fields, including the nuclear industry. The results were seen in a commendable worldwide effort to upgrade national and international nuclear security measures".

Nuclear regulation is at the heart of these changes, a tool to define and assure acceptable safety and security to serve the public interest. "We are here because we care about our nations and because we can and work together, better", said Dr. Nils Diaz, Chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

Energy & Regulation

Nuclear regulation is affected by many factors, with the world energy market being one of them. The almost forgotten enemy is back again: expensive and/or unreliable energy supply. "Many times we have seen that a society is disrupted and people suffer when energy is costly, scarce, or not available", Dr. Diaz said.

Re-energizing nuclear energy on a global scale shifts focus of industry and regulator from cooperation to partnership. Future transfer of nuclear power technologies to emerging economies places enormous challenges and responsibilities for regulators.

"It depends upon us which technologies will be transferred to these countries and how regulation be set up to ensure oversight of safety and security as well as development and regulation of nuclear technology markets", Mr. Andrei Malyshev, Deputy Head of Rosteckhnadzor said. For that reason he said his agency supports the Multinational Design Approval Programme proposed by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The projected growth of nuclear power may put additional strain on fuel production capacity worldwide. Keynote speakers welcomed proposals by President Bush for a Global Nuclear Energy Partnership and that of President Putin concerning a global nuclear infrastructure for enriched fuel supply and spent fuel storage.

Improving Effectiveness

Mr. Ivan Kamenskikh, Deputy Director of the Russian Federal Agency for Atomic Energy, asserted that for these proposals to serve global interests and assure equal access, fresh and spent fuel storages have to be put under the IAEA surveillance and safeguards. Mr. Tomihiro Taniguchi, IAEA Deputy Director General for Nuclear Safety and Security, also stressed that "effective regulation systems for safety and security are a pre-requisite for sustainable nuclear fuel supply."

What does it mean to be effective? According to Conference Chair, Lawrence Williams, "for regulation to be effective the Regulator must be seen to influence and contribute to a safety and security conscious industry. Government accepts that the nuclear industry is safe and secure, and finally that Society accepts that the use of nuclear energy is safe and secure."

The Moscow Conference is the first of its kind for senior regulators and nuclear technologists to come together and examine global challenges and solutions in the wider context of nuclear and radiation safety and security.

"We all need the instruments, mechanisms, resources, and the international, multinational, and bilateral cooperation that will strengthen our capability to serve our people better," sums up the NRC´s Dr. Diaz. "Regulatory decision making is essential to the safe deployment of nuclear power."

Last update: 11 November 2014