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IAEA Mission Says Belarus Committed to Nuclear Safety; Further Regulatory Strengthening Needed Ahead of Reactor Start


Belarussian Flag (Photo: neontapir /Flickr)

An International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) team of safety experts said Belarus should complete ongoing work to ensure effective regulatory oversight of its first nuclear power plant when it starts operating later this decade.   

The Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) team today concluded a 12-day mission to assess the regulatory framework for nuclear and radiation safety in the Republic of Belarus, which the IAEA has called one of the most advanced nuclear “newcomer” countries.

The Ministry for Emergency Situations and its Department for Nuclear and Radiation Safety (Gosatomnadzor) hosted the peer review mission, which said Belarus has a strong commitment to safety. The Ministry is responsible for nuclear and radiation safety regulation in the country.

“Belarus faces the challenge to regulate the safe operation of its first nuclear power plant. The authorities have identified this challenge,” said team leader Petteri Tiippana, Director General of Finland’s Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (STUK). “Numerous measures are underway to further strengthen the regulatory body’s capabilities. It is essential that the Government continues to support these important activities.”

IRRS missions are designed to strengthen the effectiveness of the national regulatory infrastructure, while recognizing the responsibility of each State to ensure nuclear and radiation safety.

Two Russian-designed, 1200 megawatt-electric power reactors are under construction at the Ostrovets site in northwestern Belarus. The first unit is scheduled to become operational in 2018 and the second in 2020.

The country of around 9.5 million people started its nuclear power programme to meet an increasing demand for energy. It also has research nuclear installations, and uses radiation sources in medical and industrial applications.

This was the first IRRS mission to Belarus. It hosted another IAEA team of experts, an Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review (INIR) mission, in 2012.

The IRRS team concluded Belarus has a regulatory framework for safety in place and found two good practices. It made recommendations and suggestions to help the authorities in continuing to enhance the framework as Belarus nears the introduction of nuclear power.

The experts said in their preliminary findings that continued Government backing and resources are needed to further build Gosatomnadzor’s technical capabilities. The authorities should maintain efforts to update the regulatory framework for areas such as emergency preparedness and response.

The team recommended clarification of the respective regulatory roles and responsibilities of the Ministry for Emergency Situations and the Ministry of Health in nuclear and radiation safety. Belarus has a long history in using and regulating ionizing radiation in medical and industrial applications and science, but there are still challenges to resolve in this area. The regulation of medical and occupational exposure requires proper attention, the team added.

The IRRS mission comprised 16 experts from Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, the People’s Republic of China, Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, the Russian Federation, Sweden, Ukraine and the United States, five IAEA staff members and a European Commission observer.

Their activities included observations of regulatory activities, interviews and discussions with staff from Gosatomnadzor, the Ministry for Emergency Situations, the Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment.

The experts visited the nuclear power plant under construction, as well as research, radioactive waste management, industrial and medical facilities. They observed inspection activities and held discussions with licensee personnel and management. On 13 October, the mission team leader and the IAEA coordinator met with Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir I. Semashko.

Vladimir Vaschenko, Minister for Emergency Situations, said: ”The Government of Belarus sees nuclear and radiation safety as a key priority in accordance with the IAEA first safety fundamental principle. I am grateful to the experts of the IRRS mission for identifying areas in need of improvement as well as good practices.”

“The findings are in line with the results of our self-assessment. We have a common understanding of the IAEA safety standards and how to achieve them. The outcome of the IRRS mission will help Belarus further strengthen its regulatory framework for nuclear and radiation safety,” he said.

Peter Johnston, Director of Radiation, Transport and Waste Safety in the IAEA Department of Nuclear Safety and Security, said the Belarusian counterparts cooperated with the IRRS review team in an open and transparent manner.

“They are committed to providing effective regulatory oversight of the nuclear programme as well as a diverse range of activities with radiation sources,” he said. “I’m confident they will take the action identified by the IRRS mission to further improve their preparations for the introduction of nuclear energy.”

The IRRS team identified the following good practices:

  • Innovative tools and approaches to manage Gosatomnadzor’s growth and build a healthy organizational culture.
  • Arrangements to ensure collaboration and information exchange between Belarusian ministries, the regulators, operator and main contractors during the construction and commissioning of the nuclear power plant.

The mission provided recommendations and suggestions for improvements to the Government and Gosatomnadzor, including:

  • Develop the national policy and strategy for safety, and establish a strategy for radioactive waste management for facilities and activities other than nuclear power plants.
  • Ensure consistency of regulations and continue to develop or update them as necessary to meet IAEA safety standards.
  • Continue to build the competence of Gosatomnadzor staff and ensure availability of technical support. 
  • Complete activities to establish an integrated management system within Gosatomnadzor.
  • Enhance processes for regulatory authorization, review and assessment, and inspections and enforcement.

The final mission report will be provided to the Government of Belarus in a few months’ time. Belarusian authorities told the IAEA they plan to make the report’s executive summary public.

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