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How are the IAEA Safety Standards produced? A Look Inside the Secretariat


IAEA Safety Standards and Security Guidance Series.

Safety standards cover wide-ranging topics such as the operation of nuclear installations, transport and use of radioactive material, the management of radioactive waste and emergency preparedness and response. A new standard could impact another one, or a security guidance, therefore drafting requires mechanisms to ensure consistency.

An internal Coordination Committee plays this key role of making sure that the 130 safety standards and 30 nuclear security guidance are consistent, coherent and compatible. In August 2018 it helds its 300th meeting, with participants – IAEA managers in related fields – reviewing draft standards and guidance documents.

 “The safety standards are a comprehensive body of documents that help Member States uphold their responsibility for nuclear safety. The nuclear security series plays a similar role for security,” said IAEA Deputy Director General Juan Carlos Lentijo, Head of the Department of Safety and Security. “They all have the same purpose – supporting Member States’ work to ensure safety and security, but they focus on a vast variety of topics. This makes coordination very important.”

Shortly after its inception in 1957, the IAEA began developing and establishing safety standards, and the very first IAEA publication (STI/PUB/1) was Safety Series No. 1 on the safe handling of radioisotopes, published in December 1958. In 1996, the IAEA’s Department of Nuclear Safety was created, with responsibilities including the preparation and review of the IAEA safety standards.

Following a decision to distinguish between safety standards, to be issued in the Safety Standards Series, and informational publications, to be issued in the Safety Reports Series or Technical Documents, known as TECDOCs, it introduced a uniform preparation and review process for all standards.

In 2003, the Coordination Committee was established to ensure that the standards were created as part of an integrated programme, despite covering topics from four programmes - nuclear safety, radiation safety, transport safety and waste safety.

In 2006, a key milestone was reached with the issue of the Fundamental Safety Principles,  which lays out 10 principles that underpin safety. These note, for example, that “the prime responsibility for safety must rest with the person or organization responsible for facilities and activities that give rise to radiation risks”. It also highlights that “an effective legal and governmental framework for safety, including an independent regulatory body, must be established and maintained.”

In 2012, the IAEA began issuing nuclear security guidance through the same preparation and review process, and the Coordination Committee’s responsibility grew to also ensure that interfaces between safety and security are identified and taken into account.

IAEA Safety Standards

The safety standards, established under authority derived from the IAEA Statute, are considered a global reference for protecting people and the environment. They are developed by experts from the IAEA and Member States in an open and transparent consensus-building process that takes several years and concludes with the IAEA Board of Governors establishing the standard.

The series includes several categories of documents.  The Fundamentals document is supplemented by seven General Safety Requirements and seven Specific Safety Requirements setting out requirements that must be met to ensure the protection of people and the environment. Safety Guides provide recommendations and guidance on how to act in line with the requirements.

Users of the safety standards include regulatory bodies and other national authorities, organizations, operators and others involved in the use of radiation-related technologies.


Last update: 13 May 2019

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