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IAEA Mission Says Pakistan’s Regulatory Body Effective, Encourages Continued Focus on Radioactive Waste Management

Islamabad, Pakistan

An International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) mission said that new and updated nuclear safety regulations in Pakistan have significantly updated and strengthened nuclear and radiation safety in the country. The team also noted a few areas where challenges remain, including for Pakistan to continue to focus on decommissioning, spent fuel management and radioactive waste disposal.

At the request of the Government of Pakistan, the Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) team this week concluded an eight day follow-up mission to review the country’s implementation of recommendations and suggestions made during an initial IRRS mission in 2014. The follow-up mission was hosted by the Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority (PNRA).

The team found that improvements in Pakistan’s regulatory functions and activities had improved nuclear safety by enhancing the development of regulations and strengthening arrangements for regulatory inspections, authorizations, emergency preparedness and response, occupational radiation protection and environmental radiation monitoring. However, they noted that while a national policy is in place for the safe management of radioactive waste and spent fuel, decommissioning and waste disposal, Pakistan would benefit from more active involvement in international cooperation in this area to gain from the shared experiences of other countries.

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.

The mission reviewed the regulatory framework for all civilian facilities and activities using radiation in Pakistan. Pakistan has five operating nuclear power reactors, providing over 7% of its electricity, with one additional reactor due to become operational this year. The country also has two research reactors and uses sealed radiation sources in medical and industrial applications.

The team found that Pakistan has successfully implemented all 13 recommendations from the 2014 mission and had adequately addressed 29 out of 31 suggestions. “The team saw how Pakistan has taken major steps to meet all recommendations from the initial mission. The team’s technical discussions with the PNRA were frank and wide-ranging,” said Anna Hajduk Bradford, Director of the IAEA Nuclear Installation Safety Division, at the exit meeting for the mission. “Pakistan has made clear improvements to make its regulatory infrastructure more efficient and effective.”

The IRRS team comprised six senior regulatory experts from Ethiopia, France, Germany, Slovenia, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom, as well as four IAEA staff members. The team conducted a series of interviews and discussions with PNRA staff and met with representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The review team welcomed the steps taken to improve the nuclear regulatory infrastructure. They highlighted:

  • The new and updated regulations which provide a firm policy and updated legal basis for regulation of all nuclear facilities and activities;
  • The successful regulation of the construction and commissioning of the three new nuclear power plants built in the last eight years; and,
  • The major modernisation of the National Radiation Emergency Coordination Centre (NRECC) which strengthens Pakistan’s ability to plan for, and respond to, a nuclear or radiological emergency.

“The PNRA presented clear evidence of the actions they have taken to successfully address the IRRS initial mission findings from 2014,” said Rob Campbell, a Senior Nuclear Regulator in the Office for Nuclear Regulation in the United Kingdom, and Team Leader for the review mission. “Completing this work should lead to sustainable improvements to the regulatory and nuclear safety framework within Pakistan.”

The mission team also offered observations about how the regulatory framework for nuclear safety in Pakistan might be further enhanced in the coming years. They said that Pakistan should:

  • Consider joining the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and Safety of Radioactive Waste Management, and to invite an IAEA Integrated Review Service for Radioactive Waste and Spent Fuel Management, Decommissioning and Remediation (ARTEMIS) mission;
  • Explore further opportunities to reinforce engagement with the public in its decision-making; and
  • Consider a more refined application of a graded approach within its regulatory activities.

“We are pleased to see that our considerable efforts to strengthen the regulatory framework have been reflected in the draft mission report,” said Faizan Mansoor, Chairman of the PNRA. “Pakistan will continue to focus on the remaining areas in line with international safety standards.”

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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