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Impact of Climate Related Hazards on the Safety of Nuclear Installations: Experts Discuss


Head of the IAEA External Events Safety Section, Paolo Contri, addressed participants at a technical meeting on the ‘Effects of Climate Change on Meteorological and Hydrological Hazards for Nuclear Installations.' (Photo: W. Li/IAEA)

Building a new framework that takes into account the effects of climate change on meteorological and hydrological hazards for nuclear installations, was the focus of a recently held technical meeting at the IAEA’s headquarters in Vienna.

Eighty-seven participants from 37 countries and international organizations discussed a range of aspects from data collection, hazard assessment, to design and operation of nuclear installations.

“Climate change is one of the main reasons why we need to re-assess the impact from external hazards on the safety of nuclear installations. It is critical that we have experts convene to exchange, discuss, and brainstorm, to collectively construct solutions for the safety of nuclear power plants and the environment,” said Paolo Contri, Head of the IAEA External Events Safety Section (EESS). “Safety assessment methods should be adapted, to consider appropriate management of the safety margins beyond design basis. Hazards should be precisely identified – including their uncertainties and time evolution — and plant safety should be improved, if necessary, maintained, and monitored.”

At the meeting participants shared experiences, perspectives and discussed the roadmap for future EESS activities related to climate change and nuclear safety, such as the development of new technical documents that will cover various aspects of how climate change needs to be considered in the hazard and safety assessments of nuclear installations.

Meteorological climate-related hazards such as lightning and tropical cyclones; and,  hydrological hazards such as floods and storm surges; and fire-related – are posing growing challenges worldwide. “These hazards are crucial factors that should be monitored and assessed to understand their possible impacts on the safety of nuclear installations,” Contri said. “There is a need to provide detailed guidelines on how to update the hazard evaluation methods to consider the changing nature of hazard in the short term, in order to design or upgrade the protection strategies if needed.”

Experts from research organizations, academia, and regulatory bodies, who are knowledgeable in climatology, climate simulations, plant safety, hazard assessment, design of nuclear installations, and safety assessment, provided national perspectives and case studies on the challenges faced by external hazards on nuclear installations due to climate change.

Rao Kotamarthi, a senior climate scientist from the United States Argonne National Laboratory,  said: “The decarbonization of the energy sector has the potential to be greatly aided by nuclear energy. We should have procedures in place to do the necessary safety assessment on the robustness of siting, design, and operation of new and current nuclear power plants to accelerated threats from meteorological and hydrological extremes due to the changing climate, in order to fully realize this potential.”

New generation site monitoring systems oriented to continuous  site hazard assessment and for timely management of plant reaction to extreme events were also identified in the meeting, and discussions also covered recommendations in the IAEA Safety Standards Series No. SSG-18. This publication provides a range of  recommendations that address the implications of climatic variability and change, and in particular, the possible consequences on nuclear safety of installations in relation to meteorological and hydrological extremes and hazards that should be considered for the planned operating lifetime of a nuclear power plant.

“It is essential that climate information providers and sectorial users collaborate on a better understanding and characterization of extreme weather and climate events, making use of consistent and state-of-the-art methodologies and guidance on operational monitoring, prediction and warning systems,” said José Alvaro Silva from the Climate Monitoring and Policy Services Division at the World Meteorological Organization.

The meeting resulted in the identification of key areas to be addressed and the way forward, such as updating the IAEA publication SSG-18, developing three TECDOCs, which focus on: the effects of climate change in hazard calculation events; lessons learned related to climate change for nuclear installations; and a general perspective provided on the safety assessments.

External events, including natural hazards and disasters can challenge the safety of nuclear installations. It is crucial not only to predict such events and calculate their magnitude, but also effectively assess the potential impact on the safety of nuclear installations to utilize appropriate response mechanisms in time. To this end, the IAEA has launched the External Events Notification System (EENS), which is a web-based tool that provides real time information on external events and hazards, such as earthquakes, tsunamis, volcano eruptions, river and coastal flooding, rotational winds and wildfires, that have occurred or are expected to occur, including on their severity and location, as well as estimations of their potential effects on nuclear installations and major population centres. The system collects relevant data and sends it directly to the IAEA’s Incident and Emergency Centre (IEC) and External Events Safety Section (EESS) for assessment.

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