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Strengthening Safety at Nuclear Fuel Cycle Facilities


Participants at the technical meeting on chemical and fire safety at nuclear fuel cycle facilities hosted at the IAEA headquarters in Vienna in July 2023.  (Photo: L.Oroz/ IAEA)

Representatives from over 15 countries shared their experiences in safety assessment at a national level, discussed protective measures against toxic chemical exposures associated with radioactive material and how to prevent fire and explosions with potential radiological consequences at nuclear fuel cycle facilities (NFCF) during a technical meeting at the IAEA headquarters in Vienna from 3 to 7 July 2023. 

“Feedback from countries on the IAEA activities in this field demonstrates the need for practical guidance on fire and chemical safety aspects related to fuel cycle facilities, especially in areas related to design, safety assessment, operational programmes, training of personnel, and emergency preparedness,” said Anna Hajduk Bradford, Director of the IAEA Division of Nuclear Installation Safety, in her opening remarks at the meeting.

“The IAEA assists countries in establishing programmes for ensuring fire safety and chemical safety in fuel cycle facilities by addressing these aspects in the IAEA safety standards and other publications,” Bradford said, adding that “providing stakeholders with a forum to discuss and exchange experience in safety assessment and measures for ensuring chemical and fire safety at NFCFs is among the main activities of our work.”

A total of 28 participants received in depth information on the relevant IAEA safety requirements and guidance related to chemical and fire safety such as the  Safety Standards Series No SSR-4: Safety of Nuclear Fuel Cycle Facilities. This publication requires the operating organization of a NFCF to establish and implement a programme for controlling the risks associated with industrial and chemical hazards, making sure that arrangements for ensuring robust protection against fire and explosion are in place.

At this meeting, lessons learned from incidents reported to the IAEA Incident Reporting Systems for Nuclear Installations (IRSNI) were also covered, from the use of appropriate fire extinguishing materials to enhancing the management of fire protection systems. National experiences were shared on design safety, operational safety, safety analysis, and probabilistic assessments of fire risks specific to NFCFs, and operational experience and regulatory oversight of chemical and fire safety at NFCFs.

The interaction also addressed appropriate training of fire fighters, the need for a specific IAEA publication on chemical and fire safety at NFCFs that includes addressing these specific areas of safety in emerging and innovative technologies.

“The meeting was an excellent opportunity for collaboration between the Member States. The discussions were very productive and allowed various challenges and successes to be shared to the benefit of all the participants,” said Larry Perkins, Director, Office of Environment, Health, Safety and Security from the United States Department of Energy. “The openness and willingness to share lessons learned is key to improving nuclear safety around the world and this meeting demonstrated how that type of discussion can be very useful and successful, “  he said.

Participants also discussed the need for proper coordination between firefighting personnel and the plant management during fire incidents, the importance of conducting fire hazard analysis, testing and upgrading the detection systems as required, and steps on how to further improve regulatory guidelines in this area.

The next technical meeting on NFCFs will take place in August 2023 during which the discussion will focus on operating experience at NFCFs.

What are nuclear fuel cycle facilities?

Nuclear fuel cycle facilities support the operation of nuclear plants and cover a diverse range of areas across the fuel cycle where nuclear and radioactive material are handled in various ways, such as in mining, fabrication of nuclear fuel, reprocessing and storage of spent nuclear fuel. They are of a variety of designs involving various amounts and types of nuclear materials and hazardous chemicals, therefore presenting different levels of potential radiological and also non-radiological hazards. There are over 300 nuclear fuel cycle facilities operating across 54 countries worldwide.

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