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IAEA Mission Finds Progress in Nuclear and Radiation Safety in Australia, Notes Areas for Improvement

Melbourne, Australia

An International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) mission said Australia has made significant progress in building a resilient and adaptable regulatory infrastructure for radiation safety. The team has also identified areas for potential enhancements, such as the completion of a national strategy on radiation safety. Noting ongoing activities to address consistency in the State and Territories radiation safety programmes, the team said further efforts were warranted in this area, which the establishment of a national strategy would support.

The Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) team concluded a nine-day follow-up mission from 16 to 24 October to review progress of Australia’s implementation of recommendations and suggestions made during an initial IRRS mission in 2018.

The follow-up mission was conducted at the request of the Government of Australia and hosted by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA), the Commonwealth Government regulator. Under Australia’s federal system of government, ARPANSA regulates Commonwealth entities and other entities are regulated by the respective regulatory bodies of the six States and two Territories. The majority of licenced activities in Australia are carried out under the supervision of state and territory regulatory bodies. The scope of the IRRS follow-up mission was the same as the scope of the 2018 mission, namely the regulatory framework for all nuclear and radiation facilities and activities in Australia, Emergency Preparedness and Response, medical and occupational exposure situations, and public and environment protection.

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

Australia does not have any nuclear power plants. Its one research reactor produces radioisotopes for medicine, research, and industry. Radiation sources are used in facilities and in activities in the field of research, industry, medicine, and agriculture. The country has storage facilities for low and intermediate level radioactive waste and plans to establish a national radioactive waste management facility.

The IRRS mission interacted with the Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care, the Australian Radioactive Waste Agency (ARWA), and all nine radiation safety regulators: ARPANSA for the Commonwealth of Australia, Queensland Health, the New South Wales Environment Protection Authority, Victoria’s Department of Health and Human Services, South Australia’s Environment Protection Authority, Tasmania’s Department of Health, Western Australia’s Radiological Council, the Northern Territory’s Department of Health, and the Australian Capital Territory’s Health Protection Service.

The IRRS team said that since 2018, Australia has made significant policy decisions to broaden the radiation and nuclear safety framework. Following the announcement of the AUKUS trilateral security partnership (in September 2021) and the decision on the optimal pathway in March 2023 to acquire conventionally-armed nuclear-powered submarines, Australia announced plans to establish a new statutory Commonwealth regulator known as the Australian Nuclear-Powered Submarine Safety Regulator (ANPSSR). Additionally, in July 2020, Australia established the Australian Radioactive Waste Agency (ARWA) with the mission of handling the nation's radioactive waste. During this time, the COVID-19 pandemic led to significant temporary resource constraints in the field of radiation and nuclear safety.

The IRRS team, comprised of seven senior regulatory experts from Canada, Finland, France, Ireland, United Kingdom, United States of America, and three IAEA staff members, conducted a series of interviews with ARPANSA, government representatives and the State and Territory regulatory bodies, and reviewed relevant reference material.

One of the most prominent challenges identified by the 2018 IRRS mission was the establishment of a national framework for radiation safety that ensures a consistent level of safety and protection for individuals and the environment across all jurisdictions, both in principle and regulatory practice. In response, a series of activities have been undertaken at both national and jurisdictional levels. The adoption by all regulatory bodies of a second edition of the National Directory for Radiation Protection (NDRP2) has laid the foundation for the adoption of nationally agreed radiation safety codes and standards but its implementation has not proceeded uniformly and promptly across all jurisdictions.

"The team found progress in how Australia is approaching challenges in radiation safety," said Petteri Tiippana, Director General of the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (STUK), Finland, and the IRRS team leader. “We underscored the importance of recognizing the substantial advantages of consistent regulation for public health, the regulated industry, and the efficient use of resources across the country as a whole.”

The IRRS team recognized that substantial progress had been made in response to the 2018 findings.  Out of the 23 recommendations and 12 suggestions, 16 recommendations and 10 suggestions have been successfully addressed and closed.

Two additional good practices were offered:

  • ARPANSA has published on its public website the results of its assessment of leadership for safety and safety culture.
  • The use of the newly introduced incident management system across ARPANSA for routine recording of health and safety incidents will ensure that staff are familiar with the system and will use it effectively to manage the response to a nuclear or radiological emergency.

“The follow up mission has provided an important evaluation of Australia’s progress since 2018, during what has been a challenging period globally,” said Dr Gillian Hirth, CEO of ARPANSA. “With the changing nuclear landscape in Australia, it has been valuable to demonstrate our strong commitment to radiation and nuclear safety and also the progress made as we work towards consistent radiation protection for all Australians. We are extremely thankful to all mission participants for lending their expertise to evaluate and advise on how Australia can enhance its regulatory frameworks in line with international best practice.”

In its report, the team said that to attain national uniformity in radiation and nuclear safety, the Commonwealth Government, in conjunction with State and Territory Governments, should take the following critical steps:

  • Finalizing and implementing a national strategy for radiation safety.
  • Encouraging and facilitating effective and efficient inter-jurisdictional collaboration in the development of regulatory activities.
  • Considering binding mechanisms to guarantee consistent and timely implementation of the NDRP2.


The IRRS team offered additional specific findings to address the critical steps to attain national uniformity as mentioned above, noting that several 2018 recommendations that remain open are also related to the same topic. The review also demonstrates that significant challenges related to competencies and resources of all regulators identified in 2018 remain.

“The IRRS is an internationally recognized process that strengthens regulatory effectiveness. Countries that invite missions – including Australia – demonstrate openness and transparency,” said Hildegarde Vandenhove, head of the IAEA Division of Radiation, Transport and Waste Safety, at the closing meeting held today. “By disseminating and sharing good practices and lessons learned, IRRS missions contribute to a stronger global nuclear safety regime. We are confident that Australia will implement the recommended improvements.’

The final mission report will be provided to the Government in about three months.

IAEA Safety Standards

The IAEA Safety Standards provide a robust framework of fundamental principles, requirements, and guidance to ensure safety. They reflect an international consensus and serve as a global reference for protecting people and the environment from the harmful effects of ionizing radiation.

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