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African and Middle Eastern Nuclear Regulators Learn About the Importance of Nuclear Safety

Tunisia nuclear regulators training course

Nuclear regulators at the basic training course on nuclear safety that was hosted in Tunis, Tunisia. (Photos: A.Dixit/IAEA)

Tunis, Tunisia – Several countries in Africa and the Middle East are considering the introduction of nuclear power. For the first time a training course for nuclear regulators was held in Africa earlier this month in order to help them create a robust nuclear safety infrastructure and regulatory and legal framework in their countries.

“We need to provide precise information to help regulators and operators improve nuclear safety knowledge and practice; safety has to become part of our culture,” said Naffa Reguigui, Director of Nuclear Safety at the National Centre for Nuclear Sciences and Technologies in Tunisia, which hosted the Basic Professional Training Course (BPTC), organized jointly by the IAEA and Korea Institute of Nuclear Safety (KINS).

Over a two-week period in May, the participants gained an overview of the crucial role of regulators in overseeing the safety and security measures in place for nuclear power plants throughout their complete life cycles. While nuclear regulation is the responsibility of the State, regional and international bodies such as the IAEA play also a crucial role in supporting national efforts.

The training course provided an avenue for regulators to learn about safety concepts and their application to the design and operation of nuclear power plants and research reactors. Discussions also touched on the role of regulators in overseeing areas such as quality management, maintenance, on-line monitoring, instrumentation and control, modernization programmes, importance of design provisions for withstanding station blackouts at nuclear power plants, corrosion control, structural integrity, staff training, knowledge management as well as safety culture.

There are only two nuclear power plants currently operating in Africa, along with eight nuclear research reactors, while in the Middle East there are four research reactors. At the same time, many countries are considering the addition of nuclear power to their energy mix in the medium to long term.

“Angola sooner or later will have to look at the option of using nuclear power for electricity generation, for which we need highly-qualified and trained staff in this specialized field of scrutinizing and assessing safety measures that have to be in line with international safety standards, including those from the IAEA,” said Milton Quissaca Daniel, an inspector at Angola’s Atomic Energy Regulatory Body. He added that this specialized training gave him and his colleagues an insight into the safety measures necessary when using nuclear power to generate electricity, including the importance of safety guidelines when a country embarks on using this technology.

The role of regulators in maintaining safety

The critical role of regulators in inspecting and monitoring nuclear power plants depends on “ensuring that the safe and secure uses of nuclear energy also have the necessary legal and governmental frameworks that need to be implemented according to international safety guidelines, primarily the IAEA safety and security standards,” said Hokee Kim coordinator of the course from KINS.

The IAEA’s standards provide a robust framework of fundamental principles, requirements and guidance on how to ensure safety and security. They are increasingly used by regulators and other relevant national authorities in their national regulatory systems, said Maria Moracho Ramirez, a safety officer from the IAEA’s Division of Nuclear Installation Safety.

“It is important for our Member States who are interested in introducing nuclear energy to have a good understanding of the IAEA’s safety guidelines and principles when plans are being developed for a nuclear power plant,” she said.

The importance of building public confidence

The regulators attending the training course gained insights into the importance of being transparent, engaging the public and acknowledging public concerns when the decision to adopt nuclear energy is taken.

“By educating decision makers about public concerns, encouraging and enhancing public protection, building trust among the public, conveying accurate, objective and reliable messages are key to building public confidence when embarking on a nuclear power programme,” Kim said. The more people that trust communication from an independent regulatory authority, the less worried they will be, he explained.

Lessons learned and knowledge gained

Regulatory authorities have a vital role to play from beginning to end — the design phase, operation, maintenance and decommissioning, and keeping public perception in mind is also important, said Mohamed Mahmoud Mounja, head inspector at Mauritania’s National Authority of Radioprotection, Safety and Nuclear Security.

Ahmed Ali Ahmed Yasser, an inspector from Egypt, said that the course has enabled him to have a better understanding of nuclear safety and security and the importance of keeping the public informed. “This training course has provided useful information on how to inspect, what to inspect, the importance of emergency preparedness and radiation protection when a country is looking at nuclear energy as an option to meet the power requirements of its people.”

Amany Mokhtar, a radiation inspector at the Sudanese Nuclear and Radiological Regulatory Authority, remarked that sustainable and safe nuclear power plant development depends on having knowledgeable, competent and skilled people. “I have gained more information about this field, which is important for my country, if it desires to build a nuclear power plant for electricity to meet the demands of our people,” she said. “We have had many meetings with IAEA experts to assess our interest in embarking on a nuclear power programme, for which our regulatory authority has to ensure that safety requirements are strictly followed,” she said.

Regulators from Malaysia, which is considering the introduction of nuclear power, also attended the course. “Sharing knowledge and experience with experts gives us an idea of how complicated the entire process is and what the critical factors of safety and security are which regulators like us have to pay keen attention to during an inspection,” said Abdul Shukor B. Adul Aziz, a regulatory officer from Malaysia.

Participants at the training course from 4 to 15 May 2015 represented the Arab Network of Nuclear Regulators (ANNuR), the Forum of Nuclear Regulatory Bodies in Africa (FNRBA), Arab Atomic Energy Agency (AAEA) and the Asian Nuclear Safety Network (ANSN).

Such courses are part of the IAEA’s support to Member States to encourage a wider and deeper understanding of nuclear safety regulations to protect the public and environment from radiation hazards that can result from the production or utilization of nuclear energy.

It is important for our Member States who are interested in introducing nuclear energy to have a good understanding of the IAEA’s safety guidelines and principles when plans are being developed for a nuclear power plant.
Maria Moracho Ramirez, safety officer, IAEA

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