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Continuous Progress in Application of Code of Conduct Strengthens Safety at Research Reactors, IAEA Meeting Concludes


A peek into a research reactor (Photo: C.Brady/IAEA)

Continuous progress in the application of the Code of Conduct on the Safety of Research Reactors by authorities and operators around the world has strengthened nuclear safety globally. Such progress has led to enhanced regulatory oversight of these facilities, improved programmes for refurbishment and modernization of reactors’ safety systems and equipment, and effective management of reactors that have been shut down for extended periods. These were among the main conclusions of an IAEA meeting held virtually from 7 to 11 June 2021.

Experts from 27 countries discussed the results of self-evaluations on the application of the Code and their experience in applying the Code in many areas, including regulatory oversight, management systems, managing ageing of reactors’ safety systems and periodic safety review of safety programmes and procedures. They also shared experiences in ensuring the safe operation of research reactors during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This important meeting demonstrated continued and increased recognition of the Code by regulators and operators as a main reference for the safe management of research reactors, said meeting Chairperson Hassan Abou Yehia of France. The participants appreciated the IAEA’s assistance in application of the Code and recommended its continuation. 

“We will not be complacent. Continuous improvement is required to sustain a high level of safety, taking into account emerging challenges,” said Amgad Shokr, Head of the Research Reactor Safety Section at the IAEA. “Increased attention is needed to ensure regulatory effectiveness, leadership and management for safety, including developing and sustaining safety culture, and implementation of safety upgrades based on the results of periodic safety reviews.”

What is the Code of Conduct on the Safety of Research Reactors?

The IAEA Board of Governors adopted the Code in 2004 as to maintain a high level of safety at research reactors. It is a non-legally binding instrument and provides guidance for developing and harmonizing policies, laws and regulations on research reactors, and it offers guidance on best practices based on international consensus on research reactor safety. Since 2005, meetings have taken place every three years to enable countries to exchange experience in the application of the Code, report on progress and identify actions for further improvements. The next meeting on the Code is planned for 2023.

Inside of the JEEP II reactor at the Kjeller research centre, Norway (Photo: IFE)

“International cooperation and exchange of information are vital to achieving a high level of safety of research reactors globally,” said Greg Rzentkowski, IAEA Director of the Division of Nuclear Installation Safety. “The evidence over the past two decades has shown that the Code facilitates the effective and timely prioritization of activities leading to continuous safety improvements of existing reactors.”

The IAEA assists regulators and operators in the application of the Code by organizing technical meetings, publishing safety standards and technical guidelines in all areas of research reactor safety, as well as by conducting peer reviews and safety missions based on the safety standards. The IAEA safety standards, which present international consensus on what constitutes a high level of safety and serve as a reference for protecting people and the environment from the harmful effects of ionizing radiation, are essential for effective application of the Code.

Research reactors

For more than 60 years, research reactors have been centres of innovation and productivity for nuclear science and technology programmes around the world. They are used to educate and train, produce medical and industrial radioisotopes, test material and improve agriculture and more. They also contribute to building expertise to support national nuclear power programmes. More than 800 research reactors have been built, to date.

Several hundred research reactors have been decommissioned or are currently undergoing decommissioning. At present, 237 research reactors are operating in 53 Member States, and about 30 are under construction or in the planning stage. The IAEA supports Member States with the construction, operation, utilization and fuel cycle of research reactors, as well as with capacity building and infrastructure development. 

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