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Assessing and Improving the Safety of Pressurized Water Reactors in Europe, with IAEA Support


PWRs are not only the most common type of light-water reactor, they remain the most common reactor type in use worldwide, accounting for nearly 80% of nuclear power facilities in the Europe region, and approximately 60% globally. (Photo: U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission)

Throughout the 60-year-long history of the commercial nuclear power sector, light-water reactors (LWRs) have remained a cornerstone technology for the industry, today accounting for most of the nuclear power plants (NPPs) in operation around the world. New, innovative safety solutions have allowed the operation of LWRs to become even safer. A recently-concluded IAEA technical cooperation (TC) project[1], designed to support countries as they adopt and streamline these innovations into their national power programmes, has shared specific technical knowledge and precise skills related to the design features and safety aspects of pressurized water reactors (PWRs), a category of LWRs. Core to the support delivered by the IAEA was instruction and training in the formulation of probabilistic safety assessments (PSA).

“Capacity building in safety is a high priority for the Agency and its Member States, and an essential part of the IAEA technical cooperation support we provide. By developing skills that strengthen safety and by encouraging the exchange of information and knowledge among Member States, the project has helped to ensure the sustainable and safe use of nuclear power,” said Sandra Steyskal, a Section Head in the IAEA’s Technical Cooperation Division for Europe.

Participants included nuclear power plant regulators, operators and technical support staff from 16 countries.

PWRs account for nearly 80% of nuclear power facilities in Europe  and Central Asia, and approximately 60% globally. In order to ensure and enhance the safe operation of PWRs across Europe, the IAEA supports countries as they build capacities to develop safety infrastructure and conduct safety assessment of PWRs.

Ana Claudia Raffo, former Director of the IAEA’s Technical Cooperation Division for Europe, speaks to training participants at the final regional training course of the project, held in November 2019. (Photo: S. Poghosyan/IAEA)

Sharing expertise

Through workshops, training courses, fellowships and scientific visits, the project developed a more comprehensive understanding of the IAEA Safety Standards in more than 220 counterparts participating in the project, particularly as the Standards relate to the operation of PWRs. At all stages of these capacity building events, IAEA  experts underlined the Agency’s readiness to support the NPP safety- and design-related objectives of Member States, upon request through the  IAEA technical safety review (TSR) service on design safety and safety assessment.

Much of the capacity building efforts focussed on the implementation of probabilistic safety assessments. By integrating information related to plant design, operating practices, operating history, component reliability, human behaviour, accident phenomena, the PSA methodology facilitates the analysis of a nuclear power plant in its entirety, including its safety systems and installations.

More than 220 professionals in the Europe region benefitted from training delivered through the project. (Photo: S. Poghosyan/IAEA)

“Thorough knowledge and understanding of safety assessment and design safety is an ultimate prerequisite to achieve a high level of safety throughout the lifetime of nuclear power plants,” said Vesselina Ranguelova, Head of the IAEA’s Safety Assessment Section. “An independent technical peer review, such as the IAEA TSR, is crucial to assure the quality of the assessments.”

Csilla Rudas, an assistant research fellow at the Radiation Protection Department of the Centre for Energy Research in Budapest, Hungary, was one of 226 experts and professionals to benefit from trainings organized through the project, and noted that her new skills have already helped advance her ongoing research and work to include Probabilistic Safety Assessment in Hungarian legislation.

“The insights and knowledge of the experts was crucial to my research,” said Rudas, adding that  “the knowledge sharing during the project has helped me, and other participants, to enhance nuclear safety in our respective countries.”

A leading specialist on thermal-hydraulic analysis of Nuclear and Radiation Safety Centre of Armenia, Hovhannes Hovhannisyan said, “The knowledge I gained from this project has already helped me to further assist the regulatory authority’s review of the Armenian Nuclear Power Plant’s safety assessments.”

[1] RER9144, ‘Building Capacity for Infrastructure Development and Safety Assessment of Water Cooled Water Moderated Power Reactor Technology with Advanced Safety Features: the Case of WWER/PWR’

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