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IAEA Projects Help to Strengthen Safety Against External Hazards at Nuclear Installations


Head of the IAEA External Events Safety Section, Paolo Contri presents the section's work over the past year at their Annual Donor's meeting held at the IAEA headquarters in Vienna, Austria. (Photo: K.Cottrell/IAEA)

Numerous IAEA projects to strengthen safety against external hazards at nuclear installations have been implemented this year.

“Projects implemented ranged from strengthening capacity building in countries embarking on nuclear power programmes to setting up an online Centre of Excellence for Event Analysis and developing lessons learned on prevention and protection of nuclear installations against external events — all of which contribute to strengthening nuclear safety,” said Paolo Contri, Head of the IAEA External Events Safety Section.

External events, including natural disasters and events induced by human activities, such as plane crashes, can wreak havoc on the environments in which they occur, and when such events take place in an area where nuclear installations exist, the damage can become even more wide-ranging. The IAEA External Events Safety Section supports countries to help identify, evaluate, and mitigate these potential threats to nuclear installations before they happen. The section and the projects they undertake serve to progress the work being done to further improve nuclear safety.

At the annual plenary donors meeting hosted by the Section last month to discuss its extra budgetary programme, among the 2021 accomplishments highlighted were the investment in an external event notification system (EENS); three published technical documents on seismic instrumentation, seismic isolation and probabilistic safety assessment for seismic events; and five soon-to-be-published safety reports on multi-unit probabilistic safety assessment, tsunami and seiche hazard assessment in site evaluation for nuclear installations, assessment of hydrological and high wind hazards, methodologies for the design of nuclear power plants against tsunamis, and methodologies for seismic safety evaluation of existing nuclear installations.  

Participants included regulators, operators, technical safety officers and engineering consultants spanning 34 countries and 47 organizations. “This programme makes us very proud because it gives us the opportunity to respond quickly to the needs of countries in relation to enhancing safety at nuclear installations against risks from external events,” said Contri.

All participating countries pledged to continue their contributions and support of the work being undertaken in this area in 2022. The extra budgetary funds will go towards 15 different ongoing projects and five new tasks that cover: furthering research on the impact of certain external hazards on nuclear installations, such as lightning, wildfires and sandstorms; small modular reactor siting and design in relation to external hazards; siting of nuclear waste storage facilities; furthering research on climate change and its impact on the safety of nuclear installations; and developing management and recovery safety objectives for major events triggered by severe external event scenarios.

Participants were given an overview of ongoing IAEA extra budgetary projects and several keynote lectures were delivered on topics such as external event monitoring, seismic safety evaluation of nuclear installations, and assessment of emerging issues in countries embarking on nuclear power programmes in relation to site evaluations of nuclear installations.

“The continued support, in cash and in kind, has been vital for the Secretariat who has received vision, feedback, and expert contribution in the mission to reinforce nuclear installation safety worldwide” said Anna Bradford, Director of the IAEA Nuclear Installation Safety Division, in her address to the participants.

The need for the IAEA to “develop guidelines on how to perform sustainable siting processes for small modular reactors” and “to assess the impact of climate change on nuclear installation safety” were among the key recommendations made at the meeting Contri highlighted, adding that “two projects are already in the planning process dedicated to these two issues in the coming years.”

The IAEA support to countries

The IAEA supports countries in five thematical areas relating to safety in the face of external events: siting, design, safety assessment, component qualification, and capacity building. It provides support to countries specifically in site selection for nuclear installations and in assessment and evaluation of the safety of design of nuclear installations against external hazards.

Other activities include conducting safety review missions on nuclear installations by the Site and External Events Design Review Service (SEED), the development of capacity building in this field, and creating safety guides and technical documents.

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.

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