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Strong Institutions Enhance Nuclear Safety, New Report Says

Rigorous application of the IAEA’s safety standards forms the basis for high levels of safety in nuclear installations. Strong and effective institutions that ensure that these standards are applied are key to further enhancing safety, according to a new report by the International Nuclear Safety Group (INSAG). The report is entitled Ensuring Robust National Nuclear Safety Systems — Institutional Strength in Depth.

“The nuclear community has already been studying and discussing the different interactions that exist between individuals and organizations that are important to strengthen nuclear safety and this is one of the key lessons from the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant,” said Lyndon Bevington, IAEA Scientific Secretary of INSAG. “This report builds on these discussions and considers how institutional structures can interact to further enhance nuclear safety.”

According to the report, a national nuclear safety system is characterized by interactions between and within the nuclear industry, the regulatory body and other relevant stakeholders. These groups include nuclear designers, vendors, constructors, suppliers, operators, regulators, technical support organizations, governments, local communities, the media and civil society — in essence, any party with an interest in a nuclear programme.

From engineers to institutions

In the nuclear industry, building different layers or levels of safety in nuclear installations to protect people and the environment in case of an accident is a longstanding and well accepted concept. It is commonly known as ‘defence in depth’. INSAG-27 draws on the broad elements of this concept, transferring them from the world of engineering to the operation of entire institutions. The institutional strength-in-depth concept recognizes the important influence that the different layers that exist within and between organizations can have on enhancing safety, Bevington said.

“We are hopeful that the analysis of ‘institutional strength in depth’ will join ‘defence in depth’ as a fundamental tool in the never-ending quest to enhance nuclear safety,” said Richard Meserve, Chairman of INSAG. “A systemic approach to safety is most effective when it considers the interactions between human, organizational and technical factors.”

While this publication is mainly written for those involved in nuclear power programmes, the concept it describes can be applied to all nuclear facilities, Meserve said.

One of the report’s recommendations addressed the value of this approach for countries embarking on new nuclear power programmes, where the organizational infrastructures may be less well developed. Here, the concept of institutional strength in depth can bring safety benefits when established at an early stage of a new nuclear programme.

INSAG is a group of nuclear safety experts drawn from regulatory bodies, technical support organizations, research and academia and the nuclear industry. The group is convened under the auspices of the IAEA to provide advice and guidance on nuclear safety approaches, policies and principles. The new report, INSAG-27, is the 27th in a series available here.