Nuclear Newcomers Share Experiences

Participants at last week’s annual Technical Meeting on Topical Issues in the Development of Nuclear Power Infrastructure. (Photo: M. Yagi /IAEA)

Senior experts from nuclear newcomers and operating nuclear power countries agreed that government guidance and support, stakeholder involvement, financing and safety are key issues in implementing a sustainable nuclear programme, at last week's annual Technical Meeting on Topical Issues in the Development of Nuclear Power Infrastructure.

"This meeting provided an excellent opportunity for nuclear newcomers to discuss nuclear power infrastructure, and to share their issues, experiences and challenges," said Pal Vincze, Acting Director of the Nuclear Power Division at the IAEA, during his closing remarks. He also highlighted that the discussion among participants on their experiences in planning a nuclear power programme that can support the growing energy demands of countries was an important learning channel.

Every year, one of the countries embarking on a nuclear power programme is provided an occasion to explain the status of their programme, presenting several aspects and the perspective of some of the organisations involved. This year, the selected country was Turkey.

Turkey's experience

"Turkey's energy strategy includes two nuclear power plants with a total of 8 reactor units to be in operation by 2028, and a third plant to be under construction by 2023," said Turkey's Resident Representative to the IAEA, Ambassador Birnur Fertekligil. "At the time of their completion in 2028, the two nuclear power plants will generate roughly 12 per cent of the country’s electricity." She added that almost three quarters of Turkey's energy supply is imported, costing the country US $60 billion annually, and finding alternative energy sources was of high importance.

Turkey has one of the world's fastest growing energy markets and has since the 1970s been exploring the option of nuclear power. It established its Atomic Energy Commission back in 1956 and is a founding IAEA member.

"We attach great importance to our cooperation with the IAEA," Fertekligil said. "This is why we have signed nearly all the international agreements in the nuclear field. The peaceful applications of nuclear technology are very important, not only in the energy field but also in other areas of sustainable development."

Turkey's roadmap to nuclear power has not been without challenges, said Necati Yamaç, Head of the Department for Nuclear Energy Project Implementation at the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources. "We have organised several technical visits to countries that are using nuclear energy to have a better understanding as well as have solutions to the challenges we face in this specific area of nuclear technology. Looking at the experience of other countries is a good way for us to learn."

Learning from others was a key message at the meeting, said Mehmet Ceyhan, Head of the Nuclear Safety Department at the Turkish Atomic Energy Authority (TAEK). "In addition to the nuclear reactor vendor countries, we have cooperation agreements with regulatory bodies of the Member States, and recently Turkey has recruited a technical support organization, from the Czech Republic to provide support during the review of the construction licence application. We are trying to utilize as many sources as possible to support us in building our capacities," he said.

Work and play

The meeting was not all about presentations and speeches. Over the four days, the participants also shared case studies and engaged in playing a board game introduced by the French delegation. The game covered the various steps in the establishment of a nuclear power programme, ranging from the government's decision to consider a nuclear power programme to the commissioning of an NPP, explained Zbiegniew Kubacki, Director of the Nuclear Energy Department at Poland's Ministry of Economy, a game participant.

The players were taken through the steps of the IAEA's Milestones approach and were faced with challenging decisions. The game involved events and quizzes based on real-life experiences, incidents, as well as best practices in the area of stakeholder involvement and communication. In the words of another participant: "It helps to put things into perspective; I really enjoyed learning through a game that communication is at the heart of the programme and how serious it is. I liked the lessons learned not just when you face adversity, but also with successes. At the end of the day, it is a learning process for everybody."

Milestones and safety

Safety is essential for sustainable nuclear power, explained James Lyon, Director of IAEA Division of Nuclear Installation Safety. "Safety cannot be outsourced; it's the responsibility of licence holders, and a safety culture needs to be established." He said governments need regulatory bodies to oversee that nuclear safety standards are met. Lyons highlighted the IAEA Safety Standards, particularly SSG-16:  Establishing the Safety Infrastructure for Nuclear Power Programme, a document that is in the process of revision as it incorporates lessons from the March 2011 Fukushima Daiichi accident and the feedback from Member States.

The meeting's chairman, Per Lindell, an IAEA consultant and former CEO and Chief Nuclear Officer of E.ON Nuclear Sweden, said the IAEA's Milestones approach was a de facto standard for the development of nuclear newcomer programmes. He emphasized the vital importance of safety standards and shared his personal experiences and challenges as a station director of an NPP. He argued that managing directors of NPPs needed to have excellent technical knowledge of nuclear power programmes, a comprehensive understanding of nuclear sciences and be scrupulously aware of the stringent safety procedures, standards and regulations required for the safe management of an NPP. "A long-term approach is essential, as an accident anywhere is an accident everywhere - it's what you do that counts, not what you say," he said.

Anne Starz, Acting Head of the IAEA Nuclear Infrastructure Development Section explained the work of the IAEA's Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review missions that provide useful recommendations for a comprehensive infrastructure required for building a nuclear power programme. As many as five countries may have their first NPP under construction in the next five years, she said. 

Safety cannot be outsourced; it's the responsibility of licence holders, and a safety culture needs to be established.
James Lyon, Director, IAEA Division of Nuclear Installation Safety
Last update: 11 March 2016