The establishment of independent, well-resourced, and effective national nuclear regulatory bodies is an extremely important aspect of developing and sustaining a safe and secure nuclear power programme. This was the over-riding consensus among members of the Regulatory Cooperation Forum (RCF) at their meeting in Vienna in September 2011 to discuss its activities and reach agreement on the way forward for 2012.
Established in 2010, RCF is a forum of senior regulators from 19 IAEA Member States and two international organizations engaged in nuclear power who want to share regulatory knowledge and experience more effectively and efficiently to enhance nuclear safety throughout the world. The IAEA's role is to facilitate and promote RCF activities which are determined by its members. The RCF is open to all Member States.
At their meeting, the senior regulators also stressed the importance of a well-coordinated approach in helping countries interested in launching nuclear power programmes establish effective nuclear regulatory bodies.
"It takes time and a lot of effort, and a lot of determination and resources to establish a fully-functioning nuclear regulatory body," said Mr. Mike Weightman, a senior regulator from the UK and current RCF Chair.
For those countries embarking on nuclear power for the first time, it helps to have the assistance of those who have gone through that process and have an established, mature regulatory body in developing such programmes, Mr. Weightman said.
In less than a year, RCF has already identified and implemented a pilot programme with Jordan to help the country establish an effective nuclear regulatory body. With this test case, many lessons were learned that helped to further define and enhance the RCF programme. These experiences would be beneficial in the next planned RCF projects in Vietnam and Poland.
Collaboration and coordination in building national regulatory capacity is at the heart of the RCF, and the area where the forum can be most effective. Lack of coordination has a cost. In years past, regulatory support, typically offered through national agreements between countries, was provided by advanced countries to embarking countries. When the support was not fully coordinated among the providers, a country may receive support that was not necessarily in its best interests, while its delivery caused an unnecessary resource strain on the provider countries.
The IAEA Safety Standards and guidance is the common language of RCF support. For regulatory bodies to be truly effective in line with these standards, they need to have the right resources and the right expertise to be able to develop the required regulations, and, also possess the sufficient statutory power to effectively monitor and enforce the regulations it creates.
The Fukushima accident has given the establishment of effective nuclear regulator bodies an even greater priority, and increases the importance of the RCF's coordinating role.
"It is very important to have effective, independent, well-resourced regulatory bodies," Weightman said, "and we (RCF) need to assist in the development of effective regulatory bodies for new, emergent nations who wish to make use of the peaceful applications of nuclear power."