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IAEA Mission Says China’s Nuclear Regulator Effective; Should Continue to Enhance Safety Programme

Beijing, China
IRRS China

Members of the IAEA-led Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) and staff from the Chinese National Nuclear Safety Authority visit the Fuqing Nuclear Power Plant to review safety upgrades carried out as part of work to improve safety following the 2011 Fukushima accident in Japan. The September 2016 visit was part of an IRRS review of China’s regulatory framework for nuclear and radiation safety. (Photo: NNSA)

An International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) team of experts said China’s regulatory framework for nuclear and radiation safety is effective but will require further development due to rapid nuclear energy growth.

The Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) team today concluded a 10-day mission to assess the regulatory safety framework in the People’s Republic of China. The team found that most of the recommendations made during an initial mission in 2010 had been implemented but that further work is needed in areas such as managing long-term operation of nuclear power plants and waste management.

China has 32 nuclear power reactors in operation, 22 more than in 2010. There are 24 nuclear power reactors under construction – the highest number globally – and the country aims to have about 90 reactors in operation or under construction by 2020. In 2015, nuclear power reactors generated 3 per cent of China’s electricity, a share the country aims to increase to 4 per cent by 2020. China also has 19 research reactors, nearly 100 nuclear fuel recycling facilities and 120,000 radiation sources in service.

 “China’s plan for unparalleled expansion of the use of nuclear power poses a challenge for the regulatory body, which will have to invest effort and resources to ensure that it has the capacity to effectively regulate nuclear and radiation safety,” said team leader Ramzi Jammal, Executive Vice-President and Chief Regulatory Operations Officer at the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. “We found that significant progress has been made in developing the regulatory framework in the six years since the last review. Due to the dynamic character of China’s nuclear power programme, we recommend that the next full-scope review takes place within a 10-year period of the initial mission.”

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

The IRRS team of experts provided a report with recommendations and suggestions to the Ministry of Environmental Protection’s National Nuclear Safety Administration (MEP/NNSA) and the Government to help them continue strengthening safety as the country increases the use of nuclear power.

They said in their findings that significant progress had been made in many areas since the initial 2010 review, and that improvements had been carried out in line with the recommendations and suggestions made by that mission. IRRS assessments are based on IAEA safety standards and international best practices.

The team recommended that China should continue its progress toward adopting the draft Nuclear Safety Act, which sets out fundamental safety principles. The team emphasised that the Act should ensure the independence of MEP/NNSA as a regulatory body that is separated from other entities with responsibilities or interests that could unduly influence its decision-making. It also said that national policy and strategy to manage radioactive waste should reflect the planned expansion of nuclear power.

The 14-member IRRS team comprised experts from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Pakistan, Slovenia, the United Kingdom and the United States as well as three IAEA staff members.

IRRS team members reviewed laws, regulations, guidelines and other documents. They also held discussions with counterparts from MEP/NNSA and senior management and staff at entities it regulates. They visited a nuclear power plant, a radiation technology company and China’s Nuclear and Radiation Accident Emergency Technical Centre.

Li Ganjie, Vice Minister of Environmental Protection and Administrator of NNSA, said: “The Chinese Government attaches great importance to nuclear and radiation safety regulation, and adopts the fundamental principle of making safety and quality the top priority in all nuclear-related activities. The nuclear and radiation safety regulation in China is of sufficient openness and transparency, fully in line with international practice.”

”Since 2010, with careful consideration of the recommendations and suggestions made by the IAEA review team, and incorporating lessons learned from the Fukushima nuclear accident, the Chinese government has brought its nuclear and radiation safety regulation up to a new level. We will now continue this work.”

 Greg Rzentkowski, Director of the IAEA’s Division of Nuclear Installation Safety, said China had "demonstrated a strong commitment to invest and innovate in nuclear safety to meet infrastructure development challenges posed by its expanding nuclear power programme. Effective government policies and regulations will determine the success and public acceptance of this programme.”

He added: “The regulator needs to have adequate authority, competence, and financial and human resources to enable China – a global leader in nuclear power – to adopt the highest safety standards and to contribute to the global safety network, building on their national achievements. China should lead by example in an open and transparent manner.” 

The IRRS team identified two good practices:

  • The regulatory body’s staff members extensively share information and regulatory experience through the use of specially developed computer software.
  • The MEP/NNSA and its Nuclear and Radiation Safety Centre independently assess local evacuation plans using computer analysis of data on population sizes and roads in areas that might need to be evacuated in a nuclear power plant emergency.

The mission provided recommendations and suggestions for improvements, including:

  • Authorities should continue progress toward adopting the Nuclear Safety Act, ensuring that it embeds in law the independence and transparency of the regulatory body, and that it assigns the prime responsibility for safety to operators in line with IAEA fundamental safety principles.
  • The MEP/NNSA should expand requirements for operators to ensure financial provisions for decommissioning so that they include facilities other than nuclear power plants and fuel cycle facilities.
  • The MEP/NNSA should create guidelines for applications to extend the operating period of nuclear power plants, and establish a process for the review of such applications.

The final mission report will be provided to the Chinese Government in about three months. Chinese authorities told the IAEA they plan to make the report’s executive summary public.

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