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New IAEA Publication: Applicability of IAEA Safety Standards to Non-Water-Cooled Reactors and SMRs

Image of safety report

The new safety report assesses how well the existing IAEA safety standards apply to various types of innovative reactor designs. (Image: IAEA)

Over 80 new reactor designs are currently under development around the globe, some of which are expected to be deployed by 2030. The IAEA has completed a project to assess how well the existing IAEA safety standards — the cornerstone of global nuclear safety — apply to the innovative technologies, such as small modular reactors (SMRs), which are being introduced.

More than 150 experts from thirty countries worked together to identify and document areas of novelty of these technologies when compared against the existing fleet of reactors, and assess the potential implications on the applicability of the safety standards.

The findings of this wide-ranging exercise are presented in the IAEA Safety Report No. 123 Applicability of safety standards to non-water-cooled reactors and small modular reactors, which identifies gaps and areas for additional consideration covering over 90 safety standards related to  the entire life cycle of nuclear power plants.

“The safety report is a practical starting point for understanding how the IAEA safety standards might be used for new technologies and where additional guidance may be needed to inform their application,” says Paula Calle Vives, Technical Officer of the safety report and Senior Nuclear Safety Officer at the Division of Nuclear Installation Safety.

The applicability review covered everything from siting, design and construction to commissioning, operation, and decommissioning. It also included the application of safety standards to related nuclear fuel cycle facilities; radioactive waste management; safety assessment; emergency preparedness and response; and transport. In addition, the publication considers the interface between safety, security and safeguards in the design of those technologies.

Based on the findings of the report, further activities on the safety of evolutionary and innovative reactor designs, including SMRs, are being pursued by the IAEA. For example, the IAEA is working on a number of projects covering regulation, safety, security and safeguards by design in SMRs, and safety considerations of High Temperature Gas Cooled Reactors, Liquid Metal Cooled Fast Reactors and Molten Salt Reactors.

“Accruing knowledge and, when available, experience on the safety of advanced reactor technologies is essential to be able to fill the gaps identified in Safety Report 123 and to ensure that, in due course, the IAEA safety standards will be fully applicable to various types of innovative reactor designs,” said  Ana Gomez Cobo, Head of the Safety Assessment Section. We are also developing training materials on SMR safety to support Member States to build technical capabilities to evaluate those new designs,” she said.

Underscoring further work in this area, Gomez Cobo said: “It is important that any claims on the high levels of safety of new reactor designs should be supported with strong scientific reasoning and evidence, this is why our work to develop new guidance, such as a new Safety Guide on Safety Demonstration of Innovative Technology in Power Reactor Designs is so important.”

The broad scope of this publication makes it valuable to regulatory bodies, technical support organizations, operating organizations of nuclear power plants, vendor companies (such as designers, engineering contractors, manufacturers) and research establishments.

The IAEA remains fully committed to enabling the effective deployment of safe and secure advanced nuclear reactors.

Following the development of the safety report, the IAEA had organized a series of webinars to provide an overview of the outcomes of the review. Videos of the webinars are accessible here.

The new safety report is available for free here.

The IAEA is organizing an SMR Conference from 21-25 October 2024 to provide an international forum to take stock of progress and discuss the opportunities, challenges and enabling conditions for the accelerated development and safe and secure deployment of SMRs among all possible SMR stakeholders and to create a wider awareness on the importance of safety, security and safeguards for technologies such as SMRs.

More information on registration and participation is available here

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