An old proverb says, a smart man learns from his experience, but a wise man learns from the experiences of others.
This wisdom is exactly what the IAEA is trying to foster among professionals in the nuclear industry, specifically as it relates to the safety of nuclear power plants and fuel cycle facilities.
The IAEA uses a number of methods, including peer-review initiatives like the Operational Safety Review Team (OSART), and the Safety Evaluation of Fuel Cycle Facilities During Operation (SEDO).
These on-site reviews are undertaken by expert groups of nuclear power plant/research reactor operators from around the world. They visit nuclear facilities and review the safety practices followed at these sites. The expert teams then recommend improvements based on their experience in the field.
Nuclear facilities that choose to participate in these reviews benefit from the collective experience of their peers twice a year.
"Operational safety is one of the most challenging areas that we deal with," says Tomihiro Taniguchi, IAEA Deputy Director General for Nuclear Safety and Security. "In addition to having to consider sound engineering and technology principles, you must take into account the human and organizational factors that can either contribute to, or detract from, safety. There are also economic, political and social pressures that must be taken into account."
In its quest to further engender an international "safety culture", this week the IAEA is hosting an International Conference on Operational Safety Experience and Performance of Nuclear Power Plants and Fuel Cycle Facilities from 21-25 June 2010.
Approximately 300 professionals involved in the operations and safety of nuclear power plants and fuel cycle facilities, as well as licensees and governmental officials, including regulators and senior policymakers will be in attendance.
The IAEA is adamant that a key contributor to enhancing nuclear safety is the ability to learn from experience. As well as addressing the causes of more significant events occurring nationally or internationally, this should also include learning from the causes of low level events, to be certain that more significant events are prevented.
Attendees will discuss a variety of topics, including: whether or not international peer reviews are effective tools in avoiding complacency; improvements to international peer reviews; how to improve the effective application of the IAEA Safety Standards; how effective is the current management of safety practices and how it can be improved; if existing vendors, utilities and international organizations can effectively support new utilities and operators in newcomer countries; and how to achieve safe operation when a nuclear facility is running beyond its initial design lifetime.