Countries embarking on a nuclear power programme need to ensure that the development of their legal, regulatory and support infrastructure keeps pace with the construction of the power plant itself. This is the only way to ensure that the programme proceeds in a safe, secure and sustainable way, concluded participants of a workshop on nuclear power infrastructure development at the IAEA last week, where 80 senior managers from 36 Member States focused on common challenges and shared best practices.
“Embarking on a nuclear power programme is a serious undertaking that requires significant financial resources, as well as the implicit responsibility to ensure that the necessary infrastructure is in place,” said Milko Kovachev, Head of the IAEA Nuclear Infrastructure Development Section. “A country should start a nuclear power programme only when it is ready and can be realistic about the time and resources involved.”
Countries introducing nuclear power for the first time, called “newcomers,” face a number of similar key challenges in infrastructure development: completing a national policy and strategy for the programme, developing legal framework and an independent nuclear regulatory body, strengthening project management and building a skilled workforce.
Participants at the 10th annual Technical Meeting on Topical Issues in the Development of Nuclear Power Infrastructure from 2-5 February included representatives of national governments, future owner/operator organizations, regulatory bodies and other institutions from both nuclear newcomer and operating nuclear power countries.
Presenting case studies, the participating newcomer countries discussed different issues faced including the complexity of developing a regulatory framework and licensing process. “A knowledgeable and independent regulator is essential to balance the role of the operator of a nuclear power plant and set standards for nuclear safety and a nuclear safety culture in a transparent way,” said Meeting Co-Chair Per Lindell from Sweden.
“All newcomer countries have adopted the framework of the IAEA Milestones Approach which is the Agency’s key guidance for developing the nuclear infrastructure for a nuclear power programme,” said Abdelmajid Caoui, former General Secretary of the Nuclear Research Center of Morocco, who co-chaired the meeting. “This is reflected in Member States’ expressed commitment to the safe, secure and peaceful use of nuclear energy, strong government support as a key pillar for a new nuclear power programme, and the early creation and involvement of the regulator, owner/operator and technical support organizations.” Morocco is considering nuclear power as a long term low-carbon energy source and hosted an IAEA Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review (INIR) mission in October 2015.
Belarus is currently constructing its first nuclear power plant at Ostrovets. Two 1170 megawatt-electric (MWe) units are scheduled to be in operation by 2018 and 2020, respectively. At the meeting, Mikhail Mikhadiuk, Deputy Minister of Energy of Belarus, presented the roadmap and key milestones for the nuclear power programme development.
“Belarus made the decision to embark on a nuclear power programme in 2008 in order to enhance security of energy supply by diversification of energy resources, reduce electric power production cost and curb greenhouse gases emissions,” Mr Mikhadiuk said. “We are realizing the nuclear power programme based on IAEA standards.” Belarus hosted an Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review (INIR) mission in 2012.
INIR: Assistance from the IAEA
INIR missions are the most important service a Member State can request in the area of nuclear infrastructure development, said Mikhail Chudakov, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Nuclear Energy. “I strongly encourage any Member State that is seriously considering the introduction of nuclear power to discuss the possibility of hosting an INIR mission.” Since 2009, the IAEA has conducted 17 such missions in 13 countries and recently published a document that summarizes six years of experience with INIR missions.
The meeting also addressed financial risks, which include regulatory risks, and how to mitigate them. In light of the ever-changing cost of energy and the costs and complexity of nuclear power, this is a growing area of interest for Member States, to be also addressed at future IAEA meetings.
In addition, human resource development remains a consistent challenge. Not only do countries have to find the right personnel and train them, but they also have to ensure there is a place for them to work once they are trained, for example if a programme encounters delays.
Concerning initial considerations that many Member States are making as they determine whether to embark on a nuclear power programme, energy planning is the first step toward the consideration of nuclear power. Such studies will lead to further analysis through prefeasibility studies and comprehensive reports. The IAEA will shortly publish new guidance on this process and the development of a national position, as well as several other relevant publications for countries considering nuclear power.
A knowledgeable and independent regulator is essential to balance the role of the operator of a nuclear power plant and set standards for nuclear safety in a transparent way.