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Press Release 2013/17

IAEA Mission Concludes Peer Review of UK's Nuclear Regulatory Framework

9 October 2013 | Liverpool, United Kingdom -- Senior international nuclear safety and radiation protection experts today concluded a ten-day International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) mission to review the regulatory framework for nuclear and radiation safety in the United Kingdom (UK).

The Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) mission team said in its preliminary findings that the UK had made considerable progress since reviews in 2006 and 2009. It also identified good practices in the country's nuclear regulatory system.

In addition to following up previous missions, a key objective was to review the effectiveness of the role of the Office of Nuclear Regulation (ONR), the UK's nuclear regulator, in ensuring the safety of radioactive waste management and decommissioning, occupational radiation protection, and public and environmental exposures, including emergency planning and response. The mission also considered the response of the UK's regulatory regime to the implications of the Fukushima Daichi accident had been timely and effective.

Recommendations and suggestions were made to the ONR and the Government aimed at strengthening the effectiveness of the country's regulatory framework and functions in line with IAEA Safety Standards, the control of radioactive discharges and environmental monitoring.

"The staff of ONR is clearly dedicated to their mission to secure the protection of people and society from the hazards of the nuclear industry. I am confident that ONR will use the results of this mission to further enhance their regulatory programs," said Bill Borchardt, mission leader and former Executive Director of the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

"The staff were open and cooperative in their discussions; they provided the fullest practicable assistance, and accepted advice from the Team for continuous improvement in their regulatory work."

ONR's Chief Executive, John Jenkins, said that the full report of the IRRS mission will enhance regulatory effectiveness in the UK as ONR progresses towards public corporation status.

The 15-member review team from the USA, Sweden, Canada, Hungary, Slovakia, France, the Netherlands, Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Cuba and Finland, as well as four IAEA staff members, conducted the mission at the request of the UK Government from 29 September - 9 October 2013.

The main observations of the IRRS Review team included the following:

  • ONR has been in a state of transition in recent years and will soon become a statutory corporation;
  • ONR considers openness and transparency in its communication with the general public to be very important; and
  • There is a need to continue to implement policy and develop strategies as necessary, specifying steps and responsibilities, for all radioactive waste streams in the UK.

Good practices identified by the IRRS team included:

  • Engagement with prospective licensees in the area of organisational governance and on the future geological disposal facility;
  • Spelling out detailed ONR guidelines and their application in the regulatory assessment; and
  • Use of "radioactive waste management cases" that describe how safety and environmental performance will be assured for all waste streams.

The mission identified issues in need of attention or improvement, including:

  • ONR should continue to ensure that it has the necessary human resources to fulfil its statutory obligations, review its training programme and develop a timetable for the full integration of its organisation;
  • ONR is urged to complete and fully implement its integrated management system to include all requirements to manage the organization and promote and support a strong safety culture;
  • The Government together with devolved Administrations in the UK should continue to implement policy and develop strategies as necessary, specifying steps and responsibilities, for all radioactive waste streams;
  • Provided that the legal arrangements are in place, ONR should review the implementation of present legal arrangements and ensure that all organizations, with responsibility for safety, involved in decommissioning activities and in the management of radioactive waste, are held accountable for their responsibilities; and
  • ONR should review its approach to authorising decommissioning plans and its guidance for de-commissioning.

The mission team delivered its initial findings to the ONR. A final report will be submitted in about three months, and ONR informed the team that it will make the report public.

The mission included site visits to facilities to observe inspections and a series of interviews and discussions with ONR staff and other organizations.

Background

The IRRS missions to the UK in 2006 and 2009 reviewed a broad spectrum of nuclear legal and regulatory framework, resulting in recommendations in order to fully comply with the IAEA safety standards and suggestions for further possible improvement of the regulatory framework.

The IAEA encourages countries that have hosted initial IRRS missions to invite follow-up missions two to four years after the initial missions.

Quick Facts

The UK has 16 operating nuclear power reactors at nine sites, 27 units in permanent shutdown or decommissioning state. As of 2012, nuclear contributed about 16 per cent to the country's electricity production.

The UK has a large variety of different intermediate- and high-level radioactive wastes, coming from national programmes to develop nuclear weapons and nuclear power. Most of the UK's higher-activity radioactive waste is currently held in temporary storage at Sellafield.

About IRRS Missions

IRRS missions are designed to strengthen and enhance the effectiveness of the national nuclear regulatory infrastructure of States, while recognizing the ultimate responsibility of each State to ensure safety in this area.

This is done through consideration of both regulatory, technical and policy issues, with comparisons against IAEA safety standards and, where appropriate, good practices elsewhere.

More information about IRRS missions is available on the IAEA Website.