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Robust Safety Demonstration and International Harmonization - Key to Strengthening the Safety of Reactors Designs, TIC Concludes


The closing session of the International Conference on Topical Issues in Nuclear Installation Safety presented the conference outcomes and recommendations to a wide spectrum of stakeholders, including regulators, technology holders, operators, and international organizations. (Photo: W.Li / IAEA)

The need to ensure robust safety demonstration and a suitable regulatory framework for evolutionary and innovative reactors were key issues that experts agreed to at the 7th International Conference on Topical Issues in Nuclear Installation Safety – Strengthening Safety of Evolutionary and Innovative Reactor Designs (TIC2022), which recently took place at the IAEA’s headquarters in Vienna.

The conference, organized by the IAEA in collaboration with the European Commission Joint Research Centre (EC-JRC), the European Technical Safety Organisations Network (ETSON), the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (OECD-NEA) and the World Nuclear Association (WNA), brought together over 300  nuclear safety regulators, plant designers and operators, and technical support organizations from 63 countries and five international organizations, to reflect on safety considerations related to evolutionary and innovative reactor designs.

“Evolutionary and innovative reactor designers claim safety advantages over existing designs,” said Lydie Evrard, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Nuclear Safety and Security. “These claims must also be backed by robust safety demonstrations,” she underlined.

With more than 80 small modular reactor (SMR) designs under development in 19 countries, key emerging challenges that were discussed focused on how to adequately demonstrate that the safety of reactor design considering the limited experience and current levels of maturity of first-of-a kind technologies.   

Participants agreed that there was a need for integration of deterministic and probabilistic approaches for a wide range of safety topics, such as defence in depth; safety classification of structures, systems and components, and consideration of a holistic approach to 3S -Safety, Security and Safeguards elements, in the early design stage of innovative nuclear reactors.

Opportunities identified in this field included the milestones of the IAEA Nuclear Harmonization and Standardization Initiative (NHSI), an initiative that was embraced as a necessary mechanism to enable progress and facilitate the safe and secure deployment of SMRs. Conference participants identified several actions and recommendations. They called on regulators to be receptive to any necessary changes to harmonise approaches to further strengthen safety, and to advance their regulatory frameworks to address new technologies. They called on the industry to work on common approaches on codes and standards, and sharing experimental programmes.

The conference president, Dr Rosa Rosella, addresses conference participants during the closing session of the International Conference on Topical Issues in Nuclear Installation Safety. (Photo: W.Li/ IAEA)

Participants also discussed ways of intensifying international cooperation in the area of safety of innovative reactors, and identified emerging safety challenges and opportunities for advanced reactor technologies.

Rosa Sardella, a Director at the Swiss Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate (ENSI) Executive Board and Conference President, said: “Sharing lessons learned from bilateral and trilateral cooperation efforts, as well as the dissemination of experimental data and tools to support the development of innovative reactors and their safety assessments, are important steps.”

The IAEA has played an active role in supporting and promoting the safety of evolutionary and innovative reactors across the world, by providing guidance and assistance to countries, based on the IAEA Safety Standards and the Nuclear Security Series. The IAEA promotes the safety and security of nuclear reactors through the development of these Standards along with Guidelines to aid their technical application.

During the conference, participants also gave feedback on the applicability of IAEA safety standards related to innovative reactors. “Participants have given us valuable inputs for the development of a new guide on safety demonstration of innovative technology in power reactor designs,” said Ana Gomez Cobo, Head of the IAEA Safety Assessment Section in the Division of Nuclear Installation Safety. “In this way, the conference has helped us to further the process of producing high-quality guidance for our Member States.”

The proceedings of the conference will be published in 2023 on the conference site.

The conference is the seventh of its kind on topical issues on nuclear installations (TIC), with previous conferences organized periodically since 1998. The 8th International Conference on Topical Issues in Nuclear Installation Safety (TIC2026) is planned to be held in 2026.

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