During this month´s Board of Governors meeting, several IAEA Member States noted the success of the Integrated Regulatory Review Service programme (IRRS), a comprehensive instrument that assesses a State´s safety practices regarding nuclear installations, radiation, waste, transport, emergency preparedness and security.
Upon a Member State´s request, the IAEA appoints a team of experts and observers to carry out a thorough assessment and examination of a State´s regulatory apparatus. Reviews are carried out through an intensive series of discussions, interviews, inspections and observations, and the result is a final report of findings and recommendations made by the expert team.
"It has been very valuable to have my organisation screened by twenty experts over a two week period," said André-Claude Lacoste, Chairman of the French Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN). "Further, the self assessment process is an excellent opportunity for an organisation to learn by developing staff member knowledge of international standards and guides."
Although the IRRS is offered by the IAEA, the mechanism relies upon peer review and information exchange among team members to share lessons learned and best practices.
"The IAEA is not an international regulatory authority," said Gustavo Caruso, Head of the IAEA´s regulatory activities section. "Our job is to select a high-level team of regulatory officials from our Member States who can participate in an international peer review effort."
"We coordinate the mission, recommend team members, and provide standards and structure to the process," explained Khammar Mrabit, Head of the IAEA´s regulatory infrastructure and transport safety section. "The strength of the IRRS programme is the ability of a Member State to be reviewed by international peers while utilizing IAEA safety standards."
IRRS was first piloted in Romania in 2006. Based on the initial review´s success, the programme was then employed by the UK to examine if the State was prepared to license a proposed expansion of its nuclear power programme. Building on the UK review´s momentum, a team of twenty-four experts was then deployed to France in the first full scope exercise of IRRS.
Additional IRRS assessments have taken place in Australia, Japan, Mexico and Spain, and reviews have been requested by Canada, Pakistan, Russia, Germany and the US. In addition, IRRS missions were conducted in seven "non nuclear" States. To date, all Member States who have completed an IRRS review have made their final report public, and IAEA officials state that consensus is building that the IRRS programme is an exercise that all States should undertake.
"Going through the IRRS exercise enriches the global nuclear community, provides validation for a Member State, and most importantly, helps to improve international nuclear safety," said Caruso.
The IAEA´s Division of Radiation, Transport and Waste Safety (NSRW) takes a lead on IRRS programmes in Member States that do not have nuclear power installations in place, while the Division of Nuclear Installation Safety (NSNI) guides the process in States with a nuclear power programme. IRRS is a joint initiative driven by both divisions.
"In implementing the IRRS process, namely by providing experts for the IRRS missions, nuclear safety authorities worldwide are creating an international network of senior regulators who have the knowledge of several regulatory systems and the ability to compare them in detail. Through discussions and exchanges within this network, I am confident that nuclear safety worldwide will be improved," said Lacoste, who has both received an IRRS mission and led an IRRS team in Japan. "It is a lot of hard work, but it is definitely worth it."
The IAEA had previously offered five distinct peer review services applicable to a Member State´s legal and governmental infrastructure, comprised of reviews based on regulatory, radiation safety, transport safety, nuclear security and emergency preparedness. Following an internal review of these services and in recognition that many of these offerings overlapped, the IAEA chose to improve consistency and develop an integrated approach by devising the IRRS concept.