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IAEA Mission Commends Belgium's Commitment to Nuclear and Radiation Safety, Identifies Areas for Further Enhancement

Brussels, Belgium
Flag of Belgium

An International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) mission said the Government of Belgium and the national regulatory bodies have demonstrated their commitment to continuous improvement in nuclear and radiation safety while noting the need to identify and secure sufficient financial resources and competences for the regulator in light of Belgium’s evolving nuclear energy context.

The Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) team concluded a 12-day mission to Belgium from 19 to 30 June. The mission was conducted at the request of the Government of Belgium and hosted by the Federal Agency for Nuclear Control (FANC) and Bel V, that together form Belgium’s regulatory body. It was part of the second IRRS cycle to Belgium. The first IRRS mission in Belgium took place in 2013, with a follow-up review in 2017.

Using IAEA safety standards and international good practices, IRRS missions are designed to strengthen the effectiveness of the national regulatory infrastructure while recognizing the responsibility of each country for nuclear and radiation safety.

The IRRS team, comprising 19 senior regulatory experts from 18 Member States and three IAEA staff members, reviewed the regulatory oversight of facilities, activities, and exposure situations.

Belgium operates five nuclear power reactors at two Nuclear Power Plants (NPPs), Doel and Tihange that provide 46.4 % of the country’s electricity production. In 2003, the Government had decided to phase out nuclear power by 2025 but opted in 2022 to take steps to extend the operation of two reactors – Doel 4 and Tihange 3 - until 2035. Two more reactors are in permanent shutdown. Other nuclear installations include research reactors, a radioactive waste treatment facility and an isotope production facility. In addition, medical and industrial applications of radioactive sources are widely used.

The review team conducted interviews and discussions with the FANC and Bel V staff. Members of the IRRS team also observed regulatory oversight activities at a nuclear power plant, a research reactor, a cyclotron for isotope production, a radioactive waste management facility, a nuclear medicine service in a hospital and a company for the transport of radioactive material. These visits included discussions with the management and staff of the facilities.

The IRRS team identified a good practice regarding the oversight of interfaces between safety and security. It particularly noted the conduct of annual inspections on this subject at nuclear power plants. The team considered that the main challenge in Belgium was to identify and ensure the necessary competences and adequate financial resources of the regulatory body due to the evolving nuclear energy policy in the country.

“FANC is a mature regulatory body founded on a comprehensive regulatory framework, and Bel V as Technical Safety Organisation is fully engaged in supporting FANC in delivering its mandate. The uniqueness of Belgium’s safety and security interface is a model for all countries to protect the environment, the public and the workers effectively,” said IRRS team leader Ramzi Jammal from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. “The Government of Belgium must continuously support the FANC to ensure its sustained readiness under any future national nuclear energy strategy,” Mr Jammal added.

The IRRS team identified several areas of good performance, for example:

  • The development and effective use of advanced IT systems for managing the regulatory activities.
  • The development and implementation of the assessment of leadership for safety and safety culture within Bel V.
  • The way the regulatory body takes into consideration research and development results when preparing regulations and guides for radioactive waste management, including deep geological disposal.

“Although the nuclear environment in Belgium is changing, the review team confirms that as a regulatory body, we are well prepared to face present and future challenges. We remain committed to continuously improve our organisation and regulatory framework.” said Frank Hardeman, Director General of FANC.

The IRRS team also made several recommendations to further improve the regulatory system and the effectiveness of the regulatory functions in line with IAEA safety standards, such as:

  • The Government should ensure that its decisions relating to the nuclear energy policy and the financial resources are made in a timely manner so that FANC fulfils its mandate under any circumstances.
  • The regulatory body should complete the regulations in relation to site evaluation for future nuclear facilities.
  • The regulatory body should revise the regulations relating to specific aspects of decommissioning; radiation sources facilities and activities; occupational, medical and public exposures; transport of radioactive material; and emergency preparedness and response.

An Integrated Review Service for Radioactive Waste and Spent Fuel, Decommissioning and Remediation (ARTEMIS) mission is scheduled for later this year.

Last update: 30 Jun 2023

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