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IAEA Mission Says Guatemala Shows Commitment to Radiation Safety, Sees Challenges Related to Resources, Emergency Preparedness

2017/4
Guatemala City Guatemala
Guatemala Flag

Guatemalan flag 

An International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) team of experts said Guatemala has a regulatory framework in place for radiation safety, but the Government needs to provide adequate resources for the implementation of a plan to strengthen the oversight of radioactive sources.

The Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) team today concluded a 10-day mission to assess the regulatory framework for radiation safety in Guatemala. It was the first IAEA regulatory review mission in Central America, and the third in Latin America.

“Guatemala has a long history in the use of ionizing radiation and shows strong commitment to safety,” said mission team leader Chris Miller, Director for the Division of Inspection and Regional Support at the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission. “There are, however, challenges to be resolved for the consistent and effective regulation of radiation sources.”

Guatemala does not have nuclear power, but makes extensive use of radioactive sources in medical and industrial applications, as well as in science and research.  Guatemala’s regulatory body, the General Directorate of Energy (DGE), oversees and enforces radiation safety, including by issuing licences and authorizing the use of radioactive materials.   

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

The team of experts made recommendations to the DGE and the Government to further enhance the regulatory oversight in line with IAEA safety standards and international best practices.

The mission was carried out at the request of Guatemala, and covered civilian nuclear and radiation facilities and activities. The team reviewed regulatory responsibilities and functions, and the DGE’s management structure and activities, including procedures for authorizations, inspections and enforcement processes. It also reviewed Guatemala’s framework for emergency preparedness and response and for medical and occupational exposure protection.

The team said the Government has taken steps to strengthen radiation safety by carrying out a self-assessment and devising an action plan for improvement.  Continuous support to the regulatory body and adequate resources, however, will be crucial to complete the plan’s activities in a timely manner and ensure effective oversight.  

“The Government was fully cooperative and transparent throughout the review mission,” Miller said. 

The eight-member IRRS team comprised senior experts from Brazil, Bulgaria, Cuba, France, Mexico, Spain and the United States of America, plus three IAEA staff.

“We are aware of the importance of using nuclear energy safely and responsibly. I wish to assure you of our commitment to seek solutions to the suggestions that result from this mission, always considering and complying with our legislation and pending the availability of resources,” said Luis Alfonso Chang Navarro, Minister of Energy and Mines. “I also wish to request that the IAEA continues to support Guatemala as it has done so far, in order to continue advancing not only in radiation protection and safety, but also in the field of nuclear applications that are so important for our country.”

The team met with officials and representatives from the Ministry of Energy and Mines and the DGE. They also visited medical and industrial facilities that use radioactive sources – including one that sterilizes insects as part of pest-control efforts.

“At a time when many countries are in the process of setting up or strengthening their regulatory framework, the example given by Guatemala in hosting this mission strengthens the IAEA’s message for a responsible approach to nuclear and radiation safety,” said Peter Johnston, Director for Radiation, Transport and Waste Safety at the IAEA. “We hope the mission has provided valuable insight for the DGE to strengthen its function.”

The IRRS team identified good practices, including:

  • Guatemala’s strategy for improving national competence in science and technology.
  • The DGE website provides comprehensive information on radiation safety, including forms and instructions for submitting applications for authorizations and licences.
  • The DGE is proactive in carrying out inspections to identify individuals and institutions that require an authorization, and in instructing them to obtain one or to cease activities.

The mission provided recommendations and suggestions for improvements, including:

  • The Government should further develop its national policy and strategy for safety and for radioactive waste management.
  • The Government should ensure that functions related to the promotion of nuclear technology are not assigned to the DGE as these might conflict with its regulatory responsibilities.
  • The Government should give the DGE’s Department of Safety and Radiological Protection sufficient human and financial resources to ensure that it fulfils its statutory obligation, in line with the action plan.
  • Efforts should continue to update the regulatory framework for emergency preparedness and response to meet the latest IAEA safety standards.
  • The DGE should establish criteria and requirements for licensees to report operating events.

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

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