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IAEA Assistance in Establishing Nuclear Power Programmes Highlighted

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Belarus is constructing its first nuclear power plant with two VVER-1200 reactors at the Ostrovets site. (Photo: Ministry of Energy, Belarus)

At a time when close to 30 countries are interested in establishing a new nuclear power programme, lessons learned in this complex endeavour, including changing national position due to political, economic, market and other factors, were discussed at an IAEA meeting on the topic held last week.

The annual Technical Meeting on Topical Issues in the Development of Nuclear Power Infrastructure, held from 29 January to 1 February 2019 at the IAEA, gathered over 100 senior officials from national government organizations, regulatory bodies and owner/operator organizations in 41 Member States, international organizations and the IAEA.

“This meeting provided an excellent opportunity for interaction among embarking, expanding and operating countries, for sharing success stories and discussing challenges faced in nuclear power infrastructure development,” said Ian Grant, a senior nuclear expert from Canada, who chaired the meeting.

In seven sessions, including three interactive panel discussions, participants heard updates from several new nuclear power programmes that are in advanced stages; learned about changes in national positions and their rationale; discussed challenges faced by nuclear energy programme implementing organizations, regulatory bodies and nuclear power plant (NPP) owners/operators, as well as the use of technical support organizations, human resource development, competency building and international support. They also highlighted how they benefit from the IAEA’s comprehensive set of services for embarking and expanding countries.

“The IAEA is working in an integrated manner to support nuclear newcomer countries in all aspects of developing a safe, secure and sustainable nuclear power programme,” said Milko Kovachev, Head of the IAEA Nuclear Infrastructure Development Section. “This ranges from establishing a national position on nuclear power to safety, security, safeguards and other aspects that need to be addressed in establishing the nuclear power infrastructure.”

“Safety of the nuclear power plant is a national responsibility,” said David Senior, Head of the Regulatory Activities Section at the IAEA. “It is an integral part of all national infrastructure issues and has to be part of a nuclear power programme from the early stages on.”

The IAEA’s three-phased comprehensive Milestones Approach, which enables a sound programme development process, has been used widely by nuclear newcomer countries. Since the start of the development of its nuclear power programme in 2007, same year when the IAEA published the Milestones document, Belarus has been closely following IAEA guidance, the meeting heard. The construction of the first unit of the Belarusian NPP in Ostrovets is nearing completion and a second unit is under construction.

The construction of the first of four APR-1400 units of the Barakah NPP in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was completed, and the other three units are close to completion. The NPP will supply 25% of the UAE’s electricity needs, once it is fully operational, meeting participants heard. The UAE has been closely cooperating with the IAEA on all aspects of its nuclear infrastructure development.

Other advanced embarking countries, i.e. Bangladesh, Egypt and Turkey presented the status of their NPP projects and lessons learned from the implementation regarding schedule, support from vendors, and good practices. A few Member States reported on the impact of changes in national energy policies due to political or economic reasons.

“The IAEA is working in an integrated manner to support nuclear newcomer countries in all aspects of developing a safe, secure and sustainable nuclear power programme.”
Milko Kovachev, Head, IAEA Nuclear Infrastructure Development Section

The need for well-qualified workforce

A common challenge identified in all topical sessions and panel discussions is the development of competent human resources for the different phases of building a nuclear power programme and for the key organizations, i.e. the nuclear energy programme implementing organization (NEPIO), the regulatory body and the owner/operator.

Embarking countries need a comprehensive system for education and training at all levels of qualifications needed for a nuclear power programme, participants discussed. It was noted that developing the workforce should be planned in accordance with the schedule of nuclear power programme development, not too early and not too late.

“A country needs a good roadmap for nuclear infrastructure development,” said Patrick Ovie Akusu, Director of the Nuclear Power Plant Development Directorate of the Nigeria Atomic Energy Commission. “We have to be realistic about the time it takes to develop qualified human resources, because we have to train people in all 19 nuclear infrastructure issues, as outlined in the IAEA Milestones Approach. Human resource development is a continuous effort, and the NEPIO should be encouraged to have a detail plan for developing the workforce.”

The IAEA supports countries in capacity building and human resource development through tailored training courses, scientific visits, fellowships, national workshops, nuclear energy management schools and guidance publications and other tools.

IAEA assistance

The IAEA offers a wide spectrum of peer reviews and advisory services to support Member States. Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review (INIR) missions help nuclear newcomer countries assess the status of their nuclear infrastructure and identify gaps that require further attention through national action plans. There was general agreement at the meeting of the value of Integrated Work Plans (IWPs) as a mechanism to coordinate integrated support from the IAEA.

In 2018 the IAEA conducted five INIR missions: to Niger, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and the UAE, which hosted the first pilot INIR Phase 3 mission. Since 2009, the Agency has conducted a total of 27 INIR missions in 20 Member States. Official requests for three further INIR missions, to be conducted in 2019, have been received.

In closing the meeting, Mikhail Chudakov, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Nuclear Energy, pointed out that international cooperation was a very important resource for newcomer countries.

He also encouraged participants to attend the IAEA’s first International Conference on Climate Change and the Role of Nuclear Power, which will convene on 7–11 October 2019 in Vienna.

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