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New IAEA Project Builds Capacity in Site Safety Evaluation and Review for New Nuclear Installation Programmes


Participants at the IAEA workshop hosted in Uzbekistan on capacity building in embarking countries on site safety review and assessment. (Photo: H.Lee/ IAEA)

For an operating organization to obtain regulatory approval to site, build and operate a nuclear power plant, operators must demonstrate to the relevant regulatory authority that they are able to achieve the highest level of safety possible across all stages of the life cycle of the power plant from the selection of the site, to design, construction and decommissioning.

A new IAEA project, funded primarily by the European Commission and the United States, is working to equip regulatory authority staff in countries embarking on nuclear power programmes with the training and know-how to rigorously, scientifically and technically vet applications for new nuclear power plants, specifically including the review of hazard-related aspects of the license applications.

“We found that many countries share the need to address certain hazards, such as flooding, seismic and human-induced hazards. So we designed and implemented an inter-regional joint training workshop in Vienna in August, followed by country-specific trainings, for the managers and technical officers from the regulators,” said Paolo Contri, the Head of the IAEA External Events Safety Section.

The new project — Capacity Building on Site Safety Review and Assessment in Embarking Countries —is a three-year pilot project involving seven countries embarking on nuclear power programmes: Egypt, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Nigeria, Morocco, Poland and Uzbekistan. Romania, already a country  with a nuclear power programme, has been invited to join this project as it is embarking on the construction of a small modular reactor (SMR).

“Our efforts are to engage, share and discuss the country-specific issues of the seven pilot countries on cross-cutting technical concerns identified through the self-assessment to enhance regulatory oversight,” Contri said.

A multi-step process

The licensing basis for a plant is typically described in a safety analysis report (SAR), which is either a single document or an integrated set of documents demonstrating that the nuclear power plant site and design meet all applicable safety requirements. In the initial stages, one of the most important aspects of the SAR is the description of the geological, seismological, volcanic, hydrological, meteorological and geotechnical characteristics of the site and the surrounding region. The report also should include information on human-induced hazards, such as aircraft crashes or chemical explosions due to proximity to nearby industry. The IAEA guidelines on SARs can be found here.

To effectively evaluate a SAR, the regulatory authority must have access to many different kinds of expertise, from seismology to hydrology, to meteorology. Regulatory authorities, especially in countries that are embarking on their nuclear power programme, need to ensure that that staff have the relevant competencies to carry out the evaluation, which at times proves to be a challenge, said Contri. “This is significant for two reasons: reliability and accountability,” he added. “The IAEA recommends that staff at the regulator should be trained on these competencies, rather than having to hire consultants to carry out the evaluation.”

From self-assessment to tailored training

This project aims to support countries within a specific framework to assess necessary staff skills sets available, identify skills gaps and address shortcomings. The IAEA uses the countries’ own self-assessments in these areas to develop a tailored training programme, including expert lectures, workshops and practical exercises to meet the country’s specific needs.

In addition to lectures, the August inter-regional joint training workshop on Capacity in Regulatory Authorities and Operators for Site Safety Evaluation and Review for New Nuclear Installation Programmes also included hands-on site safety review practice, where participants were asked to evaluate a sample safety analysis report against specific guidelines and present their findings to colleagues playing the role of the counterparts, such as the regulator, the utility, and the public and representatives of non-governmental organizations.

So far this year, four national capacity building training workshops have taken place in Kenya, Morocco, Poland and Uzbekistan.

Highlighting the importance of such training, Jakhongir Abdurakhmanov, Head of Department, Coordination of the Projects for Construction at the Uzatom Agency in Uzbekistan, said: “This training was very useful for the development of Uzbekistan’s first nuclear power plant project. The specialists who attended this training are also involved in the completed site selection and ongoing site characterization of the new nuclear power plant. The lessons learned during the training will be used by our specialists to review the reports and develop a technical design for the NPP.”

Taib Marfak, Chief of the Nuclear Safety and Radioactive Waste Management Department Moroccan Agency for Nuclear and Radiological Safety and Security (AMSSNUR), Morocco, said: “During this workshop, we measured the challenges to build national nuclear safety capacity based on the IAEA standards and milestones. This long-term process involves many concerned parties and is necessary to national policy decisions.”

In parallel with training workshops, the tools and documents needed for the capacity building trainings have been developed as part of the project. These include a self-assessment module, a hands-on site safety review practice module, a sample SAR, a sample safety evaluation report (SER), and SAR review guidance.

Last update: 30 Nov 2022

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