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Effective Use of IAEA Reporting Systems for Incidents Strengthens Safety and Performance of Research Reactors, IAEA Meeting Concludes


The Austrialian Nuclear Science and Technlogy Organisation's Open Pool Australian Lightwater (OPAL) reactor. (Photo: ANSTO)

Effective exchange of information in analysing the root causes and lessons learned from events reported to the IAEA incident reporting system for research reactors (IRSRR) has effectively contributed to help designers, operators, and regulators to enhance safety in the design, construction, and operation of these facilities, concluded the national coordinators of the IRSRR in a meeting held recently.

“This web-based system — IRSRR — managed by IAEA enables participating countries to exchange operating experience to improve the safety of research reactors. These efforts demonstrate the need to pay continuous attention to human and organizational factors as well as to ageing of systems and components, which are of keen importance to the safety of these facilities,” said Amgad Shokr, Head of the Research Reactor Safety Section at the IAEA. “We need to have in place effective management systems that provides for a strong safety culture, and to refurbish and modernizer the reactor facilities in accordance with up-to-date safety requirements, including the IAEA safety standards.”

The IAEA IRSRR, established in 1997, is a global forum that enables the research reactor community to exchange operating experience and share precise knowledge. To date it has 62 participating countries — representing almost all countries currently operating research reactors. Access to the information in the system is restricted to authorized national coordinators.

“There is a need to ensure adequate and clear operating procedures, and to continue to improve training of operation and maintenance staff, as human errors are identified as one of the main root causes of events reported to the IRSRR,” Shokr further explained.

At a meeting on this subject area, coordinators of 39 countries discussed the experience from recent events at research reactor facilities and in managing safety during the pandemic. Ways to enhance use of the IRSRR was also discussed, including disseminating feedback from the system to operation and maintenance staff and improving the system-user interface for facilitating access to information and sharing of event reports.

The SAFARI-1 research reactor in operation. (Photo: Necsa)

Duane Hardesty, Senior Project Manager at the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, who also served as the meeting’s chairperson said: “the meeting was a valuable opportunity for information networking for safety improvement of research reactors, including with respect to regulatory oversight.”   

Practical use of the IAEA incident reporting system for research reactors will help research reactor operators and regulators to plan and implement technical and organizational measures to prevent incidents. This platform also enables the identification of specific work processes or procedures that can be introduced or further improved to enhance operational safety performance.

“Effective use of the IRSRR and information from this meeting will help us to establish a programme on how to utilize operating experience which will not only strengthen safety but will also contribute to enabling a more effective use of the research reactor for societal benefits,” said Mohamed Shaat, Egypt’s IRSRR Coordinator.

In addition to dissemination of operating experience, IAEA assists its Member States to continuously enhance safety of research reactors, including by development of safety standards and technical guidelines, by conducting safety peer reviews and advisory services and by organizing technical meetings and training workshops.

The IAEA Safety Standards provide a robust framework of fundamental principles, requirements, and guidance to ensure safety. They reflect an international consensus and serve as a global reference for protecting people and the environment from the harmful effects of ionizing radiation.

This meeting was part of a series of meetings of national coordinators held every two years. The next one will be held in 2023.

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.

Last update: 19 Oct 2021

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