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ORPAS Follow-Up Mission to UAE Marks Strong Country Commitment to Radiation Protection of Workers, Including Space Crews


ORPAS reviewers observing a Clearance Assessment System for Pipes (CASP) assessing a cleaned pipe for NORM residue for proper treatment and disposal, Abu Dhabi Oil Refining Company (ADNOC), Takeer, UAE (Photo: S.Vel/ ADNOC)

The IAEA’s Occupational Radiation Protection Appraisal Service (ORPAS) recently conducted its first ever review of national arrangements for the occupational radiation protection of space crew during a follow-up mission to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), held from 24 to 28 October 2022.

“Given the ambitious space programme of the UAE, radiation protection of space crew was included for the first time in an ORPAS mission,” said Werner Rühm, the ORPAS reviewer from the Institute of Radiation Medicine, Helmholtz Zentrum München. “The Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR) is currently developing – together with the UAE Space Agency – a regulatory basis for radiation protection of astronauts, and the advice as well as guidance by the ORPAS team was highly appreciated.”

The ORPAS team was made up of seven reviewers from Australia, Canada Germany, Italy, Norway, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, along with an IAEA coordinator and UAE counterparts. ORPAS missions provide independent reviews of legislation, regulation, and practical implementation of requirements at facilities and technical service providers, regarding occupational radiation protection. They are intended for organizations that utilize radiation in facilities or activities, technical service providers, and regulatory bodies.

This specific mission was unique as it assessed the newly established radiation protection programme of the Barakah Nuclear Power Plant, which had an ORPAS mission in 2015 to evaluate radiation protection during its construction phase. The scope of the follow-up mission was expanded at the  request of the country to include a newly operational secondary standards dosimetry laboratory, naturally occurring radiation material (NORM) treatment and disposal facility, and regulations for the space crew.

The recommendations to the FANR during the 2015 mission,  covered areas to improve the national arrangements for occupational radiation protection, including, authorization of technical service providers; establishment of a national dose registry; standardization of education and training programmes; recognition of qualified experts and radiation protection officers to enhance radiation protection; harmonization of health surveillance programmes; strengthening procedures for investigating overexposures, and building capacity for individual internal dosimetry.  

“The findings of the initial ORPAS mission in 2015 were indicative of radiation protection system that, while in place, had not matured to a system fully compliant with international safety standards,” said Stephen Long, team leader of the follow-up ORPAS mission, from the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency. “I would like to commend the government of the UAE and all of the national counterparts on the considerable efforts they have made to address all recommendations and suggestions made in 2015.”

During the recent mission, suggestions were proposed regarding the responsibilities of the space agency to expand recently implemented regulations to include a framework for radiation protection of astronauts in space and to establish pre-flight arrangements to ensure proper individual and area monitoring are carried out and doses are recorded. The implementation of these suggestions will bring the UAE more in line with the IAEA Safety Standards and finalize a formal framework for occupational radiation protection in air and space crews. 

Aayda Al Shehhi, Director of Radiation Safety in FANR, said: “the extended ORPAS mission to the UAE was an opportunity to assess the progress the UAE made so far in the area of occupational radiation protection in line with the applicable IAEA standards. The UAE is the first IAEA Member State requesting appraisal of the occupational radiation protection arrangement for its space programme, making the UAE a role model for other countries.”

The ORPAS team concluded that the UAE had demonstrated commitment to sustainability on legislative and regulatory infrastructure for occupational radiation protection, technical services relating to protection and safety, and practical implementation through radiation protection programmes by operators.

“The development and implementation of a radiation protection programme for the Barakah Nuclear Power Plant is fully compliant with relevant IAEA Safety Standards,” said Burcin Okyar, Radiation Safety Specialist, IAEA coordinator of the Mission. “FANR’s approach in regulating the industrial processes and activities involving NORM has been exceptional and showed a strong understanding of safety principles and commitment to worker’s health and safety.”

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