IAEA Nuclear and Radiation Safety Standards Seek Best Practices
Scientific Forum Session Reviews the Global Framework
When it comes to nuclear and radiation technologies, safety ranks as a top public concern. For the IAEA, setting and promoting standards for nuclear, radiation, waste, and transport safety have been top priorities from the start, rooted in the Agency's Statute. Today, a corpus of international standards are in place that national authorities and industries in many countries are applying, even as more are being encouraged and assisted to follow them.
At the IAEA Scientific Forum 17 September, a crowded session moderated by Mr. J. Laaksonen of Finland, aired the views of global safety experts, regulators, and government officials, who were briefed on the latest work being done to keep safety standards updated and authoritative. They cover nuclear power plants, radiation protection, the transport of radioactive material, and a range of other activities.
"The safety standards reflect an international consensus on what constitutes a high level of safety for protecting people and the environment," says Mr. Laurence Williams, who heads the United Kingdom nuclear safety inspectorate and Chairs the Commission on Safety Standards, which oversees the IAEA programme including four committees. All IAEA Member States can nominate experts for the Agency's standards committees and provide comments on draft standards, he points out.
A main emphasis today is to establish the standards as a global reference point to promote the application of the best, rather than simply good, safety practices. An Action Plan being prepared for the IAEA Board of Governors pinpoints specific steps designed to reinforce the standards' global applicability.
The work has taken on added importance, as more countries join international safety conventions. One general obligation is that a State must not pursue activities that cause damage to another State, and more specific obligations are set by safety conventions under IAEA auspices. They contain requirements similar to those in the international safety standards.
Other experts at the Forum session reviewed the reach of standards in specific areas.
In the heavily regulated transport industry, the IAEA's standards are entrenched. "They are at the heart of the international regulatory regime," says Mr. Lorne Green, Secretary General of the World Nuclear Transport Institute, "and we take our responsibilities seriously."
In the European Union, the IAEA's standards are serving as a reference base, though supplementary standards are not being ruled out as more States line up to join the EU. Mr. C. Waeterloos of the European Commission reviewed the approach being taken within the framework of the European Atomic Energy Community, one which has raised political controversy. "Practical problems are being raised," he says. Yet the principal aim remains having countries achieve the highest possible levels of safety.
In Ghana, efforts are geared toward strengthening radiation safety using IAEA standards for regulation, legislation and other oversight areas, notes Mr.C. Schandorf of the country's Radiation Protection Institute. "We need to make the radiation protection and safety regime self-reliant and sustainable," he says. Though the IAEA is assisting in efforts, considerably more resources and support than Ghana now has will be needed.