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Strengthening International Standards for Nuclear Safety: IAEA Safety Publications Restructured


Achieving high levels of safety in the many areas in which countries use nuclear technologies requires a robust and comprehensive international safety framework. The IAEA this year completed a structural revision that has further strengthened the IAEA safety standards, a series of publications which outline the international consensus recommendations for protecting people and the environment from the harmful effects of ionizing radiation.

The IAEA safety standards highlight how authorities and other stakeholders can ensure the safety of activities such as the operation of nuclear installations, transport and use of radioactive material, management of radioactive waste, as well as the application of radiation sources in medicine, industry, agriculture, education and research. Developed in close cooperation with governments and organizations, the contents of these publications are the result of knowledge and experience gained from the use of nuclear technologies and from the application of the safety standards themselves.

The standards consist of three sets of publications: the Safety Fundamentals, the Safety Requirements and the Safety Guides. The first of these establishes the fundamental safety objective and principles of protection and safety and constitutes the conceptual basis for the IAEA's entire safety standards series. The Safety Requirements set out the conditions that must be met to ensure the protection of people and the environment, both now and in the future, and the Safety Guides provide recommendations and guidance on how to comply with the requirements.

The revision of the standards’ structure has increased their user friendliness, harmonized terminology and improved methods for collecting feedback, strengthening the standards and promoting their universal application. The publication of the new Site Evaluation for Nuclear Installations in 2019 marks the completion of the whole set of Requirements in line with the revised long-term structure.

The revised structure comprises seven General Safety Requirements that are applicable to all facilities and activities and seven Specific Safety Requirements, which are facility and activity specific.

“The safety standards underpin global nuclear safety, so we need them to be excellent. And they are – in part thanks to the work of our Member States,” said Juan Carlos Lentijo, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Nuclear Safety and Security. “The new structure makes it easier for users to identify which standards apply to their facilities and activities.”

As a part of the revision, the format of the publications themselves was also reformed, with each Safety Requirement now containing a set of overarching requirements, each of which is followed by more detailed requirements that describe the conditions to be met.

“What is significant about this new structure is the improved stability and solidity of the standards themselves,” said Dominique Delattre, Head of the IAEA’s Safety Standards and Security Guidance Development Section. “This project entailed not only integrating new definitions and concepts in radiation protection and lessons learned in recent years, but also ensuring strengthened harmony among the standards, further integrating the various thematic areas covered in these publications.”

“We have arrived at the long-term structure thanks to an elaborate consulting process with experts from countries all over the world, taking tens of thousands of comments into account,” he said. “This kind of engagement is crucial to improving user-friendliness and therefore promoting the role of the standards as the global reference. We will maintain this intensive engagement during the ongoing revision of the Safety Guides that support the Requirements.”

The IAEA has also recently published a new edition of its Safety Glossary,  which defines and explains technical terms used in the Standards, as well as provides information on their usage. The Glossary aims to harmonize all terminology and its usage in practice.

The IAEA has also developed an advanced online search tool, the Nuclear Safety and Security Online User Interface (NSS-OUI), which allows users to easily access and browse the content of the IAEA’s safety publications as a complete set and search for specific keywords or text in order to find specific requirements, recommendations and guidance related to selected subject areas or concepts.

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