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Collective Knowledge, Experience of International Organizations Support New Nuclear Power Programmes

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The IAEA, the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) and the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) presented resources and support available to help newcomer countries as they add nuclear power to their energy mix. Vienna, 18 September 2019. (Photo: K. Gallaher/IAEA)

As countries work toward Sustainable Development Goal 7 to ensure access to energy for all, many opt to include nuclear power in their energy mix. This has the added benefit of reducing carbon emissions and mitigating climate change.

In addition to the 30 countries already operating nuclear power programmes, almost 30 more are considering, planning or starting new programmes. The IAEA and its partners help them do so safely, securely and sustainably.

On the sidelines of the IAEA General Conference on Wednesday, the IAEA, the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) and the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) presented resources and support available to help newcomer countries as they add nuclear power to their energy mix. 

“A national decision to build a nuclear power plant requires not only financing, but also the development of national technical knowledge and the establishment of supply chains. And the public must be consulted.  That may sound daunting — and it is,” said IAEA Deputy Director General Juan Carlos Lentijo, Head of the Department of Safety and Security. “The Agency and other organizations are here to help countries that choose to use nuclear power to do so safely and securely.”

Cultivating a safety culture

The IAEA developes Safety standards based on the concensus of its Member States. “The Agency’s standards are applicable right from the beginning of a country starting to think about a nuclear power programme, all the way through decommissioning and final site remediation,” said Peter Tarren, Head of the IAEA’s Operational Safety Section.

While people can be trained to perform calculations or to follow procedures, making important decisions based on safety ought to become second nature. “You have to get to the state where people will take the right actions under all circumstances,” Tarren said.

The three organizations agreed that they want countries new to nuclear power to gain the benefit of what has already been learned elsewhere. “There is no point for newcomer countries embarking on a nuclear power programme to go through the same learning curve that many countries went through 30 to 50 years ago. We have the knowledge and experience, and we want to share it,” Tarren said. In addition to standards and guides, the Agency offers review missions and capacity-building services to support a safety culture that becomes self-sustaining.

Alex Polyakov, Member Support Programme Director at WANO, explained that new entrants to the nuclear industry can receive tailored support, according to their individual project requirements.

WANO, which is focused on maximizing nuclear safety and reliability in civil nuclear power plants and facilities, supports new entrants and new builds through its New Unit Assistance service. The assistance service complements the IAEA’s Milestones in the Development of a National Infrastructure for Nuclear Power and includes 18 modules to be delivered along the timeline of the new operating organisation’s growth, including during the design, construction and commissioning phases.

“Since 2016, we have completed over 150 New Unit Assistance missions for members in 12 countries,” Polyakov said. “Experience indicates that when new builds engage in our programme early, even before they start construction, they gain the maximum benefits related to launching a new unit safely, reliably and on time.”

Infrastructure development

The IAEA Milestones Approach provides a comprehensive method to establish the infrastructure for a nuclear power programme and includes 19 elements, through three progressive phases of development. Infrastructure, in this sense, also includes an enabling environment in which a successful nuclear project can take place, such as legal framework and safeguards, explained Milko Kovachev, Head of the Nuclear Infrastructure Development Section at the IAEA. “This is about an environment required for the safe, secure and sustainable development of nuclear power and meeting specific requirements for this technology to be used peacefully and safely.”

The E-learning for Nuclear Newcomers and Nuclear Infrastructure Bibliography complement the Nuclear Infrastructure Competency Framework database to assist in planning activities required throughout each phase.

Upon request, the Agency conducts an Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review (INIR) mission to assess a country’s infrastructure status for a specific phase of the Milestones Approach. Since 2009, the Agency has completed 27 INIR missions in 20 Member States. Following the General Conference, the Agency will conduct an INIR for Phase 2 in Egypt and a follow-up INIR for Phase 1 in Ghana.

To address industry challenges, EPRI conducts research and development, particularly related to improving the engineering and construction of nuclear power plants. Tina Taylor, EPRI Deputy Chief Nuclear Officer, stated that concrete has been a source of challenges for many projects. “We are working on practical solutions related to concrete because there is so much time and money involved. Saving a percentage of the time it takes in the concrete process would be of great value worldwide,” she explained.

Over decades, each organization has developed resources that complement and work toward a shared goal to ensure the safety of people and the environment. “The international organizations have long-lasting experience and have provided in the past and are ready to provide in the future support to nuclear power programmes,” Kovachev said. “International cooperation — showing the openness, transparency and support of three important international organizations — is key for success for a technology like nuclear.”

At the side event, the IAEA, WANO and EPRI released a joint white paper, Nuclear Industry New Build/New Entrants, to present what each organization can provide in terms of support throughout the new entrant journey.

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