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Nuclear Safety from Start to Finish: The Site and External Events Design Review Service (SEED)


Meteorological tower at El-Daba site, Egypt. (Photo: IAEA)

This year marks the 10-year anniversary of the creation of the IAEA’s  Site and External Events Design Review Service (SEED). This service is designed to assist countries in the different stages of the safety review of nuclear installations, such as nuclear power plants and research reactors.

“SEED is among one of the key services that the IAEA offers to regulatory bodies and current or future operators and vendors, because it covers essential elements of the lifecycle of a nuclear power installation, from siting to design, safety assessment to operation, and all potential impacts that could result from external events, such as a tsunamis, earthquakes, and floods," said Paolo Contri, Head of IAEA External Events Section, Division of Nuclear Installation Safety.

SEED review missions are normally carried out in three separate phases: pre-mission, which focuses on preparing for the main-mission review; main-mission, which involves an in-depth assessment of the requested nuclear installation and offers recommendations; and follow-up-mission, which assesses the implementation of the SEED mission recommendations – all executed by a team of experts led by IAEA staff.  Countries requesting an IAEA SEED mission can choose from six modules depending on their desired review scope. These include a review of site and design regulations; a review of the site selection process; a site evaluation review; an environmental impact assessment (EIA) review; a site monitoring review; and a safety review of structures, systems and components, against external hazards.

SEED missions assess nuclear installation safety based on the application of IAEA Safety Standards and are supported by a number of IAEA technical documents. These documents are updated periodically according to feedback received from implementing countries.  They are also used as a reference for comments and suggestions whenever a SEED mission is carried out, as they provide solid background on the state-of-the-art practices carried out within IAEA member countries.

Discussions between IAEA staff and Egyptian counterparts. (Photo: IAEA)

“The types of missions requested change with time,” said Contri, highlighting that five years ago the emphasis was on design and safety assessment against external hazards, following the March 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident. “Now there is an emphasis on site selection, site evaluation and adequacy of design for the selected site, due to the high number of countries embarking on building, or considering, nuclear power plants to meet the increased energy requirements of their populations.”

Certain aspects of SEED related safety issues also need to factor in natural disasters due to climate change, which can impact nuclear installations. “Natural disasters are becoming more frequent due to climate change, and these pose a threat to nuclear installations around the world,” said Contri. “Thus, there is a big emphasis for SEED administrators on ensuring that current installations and proposed new reactor designs will be effective in withstanding changing hazard types and severity.” The IAEA is also working towards placing future emphasis on new reactors, such as small modular reactors, advanced reactors, micro reactors, floating reactors, and fusion reactors.”

10 years of SEED

Though the name SEED was coined in 2011, all of the services currently offered through SEED have existed separately for much longer within the IAEA, such as the site safety review service and the design safety review service. In 1978, the first site safety review mission was carried out on one nuclear power plant in the Philippines—making this the longest standing review service provided by the IAEA.  

In May this year, SEED completed its 50th mission. The mission was conducted on the Akkuyu site in Turkey and began with the pre-mission and main mission in July 2017.   The follow-up review mission this year was conducted virtually over three days, to assess the design of the safety related structures, systems and components against external hazards such as earthquakes and tsunamis and plane crashes. Some recommendations made by SEED during the main mission included the need to update the Preliminary Safety Analysis Report to reflect the latest revisions of hazard studies as well as the need to more clearly indicate their methodology for demonstrating safety margins. “This played an important role in preparation for the construction of nuclear power plants in Turkey, by making sure that all adequate safety measures are in place for such installations,” said Ovidiu Coman, Senior Nuclear Safety Officer at the IAEA.

IAEA review services

The IAEA peer review and advisory services, such as SEED, do not constitute a design certification, licensing or supervisory activity, and they are not regulatory inspections or audits against national codes and standards. Review processes are only conducted at the request of countries and focus only on the specific area requested. These services support the strengthening of national safety and security infrastructure, while recognizing that the responsibility for nuclear safety and security rests entirely with countries.

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