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Nuclear Safety Regulators Discuss How to Develop and Maintain a Competent Workforce

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Participants at the forum discuss best practices to support countries in developing and sustaining nuclear safety infrastructures. (Photo: H. Boening/IAEA)

Ensuring that countries, particularly those with nascent nuclear power programmes, have the tools to develop an effective and independent regulator for the safe operation of nuclear facilities was at the heart of the discussion during the tenth plenary meeting of the Regulatory Cooperation Forum (RCF). Examples of the impact of the RCF’s work in recent years were also presented.

Countries introducing or expanding nuclear power can benefit from the experience of those with advanced nuclear power programmes in devising a regulatory framework. The focus of the RCF is to support nuclear newcomers to develop and sustain nuclear safety infrastructures consistent with the IAEA’s safety standards.

Several challenges in developing a regulatory infrastructure were identified by recipient countries at an RCF meeting held in June of last year, said Juan Carlos Lentijo, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Nuclear Safety and Security. He remarked that this meeting provided an opportunity to discuss these challenges to help the RCF and the Agency shape future work to support embarking countries.

The 29-member RCF has successfully promoted a global nuclear safety regime in recent years, with a total of nine countries currently receiving RCF support, most of them newcomers to nuclear power, said Bismark Tyobeka, RCF Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of South Africa’s National Nuclear Regulator. “We have also seen interest from more countries to join the RCF during the 63rd IAEA General Conference,” he said. “In this regard, we urge more Member States with advanced and well-developed nuclear regulatory frameworks to come forward and become provider countries, so that the RCF can make a larger impact in the long term.”

The impact of the RCF’s work can already be seen in Poland, where the regulator, the National Atomic Energy Agency (PAA), has been receiving support since 2013. “In cooperation with the RCF, the PAA has successfully launched two development programs – one focused on job training and one on licensing – both of which have considerably contributed to strengthening the regulatory readiness of the PAA to license the first nuclear power plant in Poland,” said Michael Koc, Director of the PAA. Poland is one of 30 countries considering the introduction of nuclear energy.

Thanks to RCF members, around 25 regulatory experts and inspectors from PAA have received extensive hands-on experience in regulatory oversight on topics such as the siting, construction and operation of nuclear power plants, said Koc. His presentation recounted a licensing simulation exercise during which the PAA team assessed and reviewed a sample application for the construction of a nuclear power plant. “These achievements would not have been possible without the support of the RCF,” he said.

In addition, representatives from the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) presented on measures taken to ensure the existence of a competent workforce, addressing one of the challenges identified by several recipient countries. The presentation highlighted steps taken by the UAE to encourage the pursuance of careers in nuclear, such as the creation of the Young Professional Development Programme, designed to provide new graduates in engineering and physics with the fundamental knowledge necessary to understand technical concepts applicable to nuclear engineering, radiation protection and safeguards.

Participants also discussed the importance of building and sustaining capacities as part of a new, more comprehensive approach to nuclear safety to begin in 2020. It includes ways in which the objectives of the IAEA’s safety standards can be put into practice. Human resource development, education and training, knowledge management and knowledge networks are the main activities considered, both for operating and newcomer countries.

“The specifics of these activities will depend on a country’s needs and efforts to address gaps identified in international safety review missions,” said Greg Rzentkowski, Director of the IAEA’s Division of Nuclear Installation Safety. “All countries, however, must develop and maintain a competent workforce to ensure the safety and sustainability of a nuclear power programme.  To achieve this goal, countries must work together and be prepared to invest and innovate with an eye toward the future.”

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