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IAEA Mission Says Spain Demonstrates Strong Commitment to Safety, Notes Challenges in Radioactive Waste Management

Madrid, Spain

An IAEA team of experts today completed a 14-day review of Spain’s regulatory framework for nuclear and radiological safety and radioactive waste management programme. (Photo: CSN, Spain)

An International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) team of experts today said Spain showed a strong commitment to nuclear and radiation safety, but noted that the country could face challenges in the implementation of its radioactive waste management strategy.

For the first time, the IAEA carried out two different peer reviews combined in one mission, which concluded this week in Spain. The Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) team looked at the Spanish regulatory framework for nuclear and radiological safety. The Integrated Review Service for Radioactive Waste and Spent Fuel Management, Decommissioning and Remediation (ARTEMIS) provided an independent evaluation of the country’s radioactive waste management programme. The combined mission was carried out at the request of the Government of Spain.

The mission was hosted by the Nuclear Safety Council (CSN), the Ministry for Ecological Transition, and the Spanish Radioactive Waste Management Agency (ENRESA).

The team recognized the expertise and dedication of the national regulatory authorities – which includes CSN, relevant ministries and local government authorities – and commended Spain for its strategy for the management of radioactive waste and spent fuel generated in the country. The team noted, however, that delays in the implementation of the strategy could affect its sustainability.

“In inviting the IAEA to conduct this unique mission, the Spanish government has demonstrated strong commitment to a basic principle for excellence in nuclear and radiation safety—a quest for continuous improvement,” said team leader Victor McCree, retired Executive Director for Operations at the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Nuclear power generates around 20% of Spain’s electricity. The country has seven operating nuclear power reactors and three in permanent shutdown, two of which are being decommissioned. Most of the reactor sites have interim spent fuel storage facilities, and Spain has one disposal facility for very low, low and intermediate level radioactive waste. There are plans for the construction of a facility – the Centralized Storage Facility – for higher level radioactive waste and spent fuel, but its licencing review has been temporarily halted by the Government.

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

ARTEMIS missions provide independent expert advice from an international team of specialists convened by the IAEA. Reviews are based on the IAEA safety standards, technical guidance, as well as international good practices.

The mission covered all regulated nuclear facilities and activities, as well as the national framework and programme for the management of all types of radioactive waste and spent fuel in Spain. The team met with relevant agencies, including CSN, ENRESA and the Ministry for Ecological Transition, and observed regulatory inspections at sites such as a nuclear power plant, a nuclear fuel fabrication facility and a large industrial radiography facility.

The team observed two good practices that will be promoted internationally: 

  • An innovative data management tool used by CSN for assessing safety in the transport of radioactive materials.
  • ENRESA’s state-of-the-art design for the Centralized Storage Facility as part of a national strategy to manage spent fuel.

The team made several recommendations to help strengthen nuclear and radiation safety in the country: 

  • The Government should ensure that delays in establishing the Centralized Storage Facility do not negatively impact the safe management of spent fuel and higher level waste.
  • The Government should take immediate steps regarding updates to the national General Radioactive Waste Plan.
  • The Government, CSN and ENRESA should develop regulations, technical requirements and an implementation plan for a deep geological disposal facility.
  • The Government should enhance coordination among operators, response organizations and regulatory authorities during a nuclear and radiological emergency.
  • The regulatory authorities should enhance processes for systematic reviews of nuclear regulations and guides in line with IAEA safety standards.
  • CSN should complete cooperation agreements with other national competent authorities regarding the management of contaminated sites.

“There is always room for improvement in the pursuit of excellence and efficiency to guide public administrations in their commitment to serve citizens and achieve the highest levels of safety,” CSN Chairman Fernando Marti Scharfhausen said.

ENRESA Chairman Jose Luis Navarro declared his full satisfaction and gratitude to the international team. “The Spanish radioactive waste management system is robust and rather complete from the legal, administrative, financial and technical viewpoints, although attention is needed in order to update the current planning,” Navarro said.

The review team comprised 24 senior international experts from Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Japan, Pakistan, Slovenia, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States and IAEA staff.

“In light of the ongoing and future challenges in the nuclear industry in Spain, I believe the mission was very timely,” said Greg Rzentkowski, Director of the IAEA Division of Nuclear Installation Safety. “The findings will contribute to the continued improvement of nuclear and radiation safety in the country, including the safe management of radioactive waste.”

The final report for the combined mission will be provided to the Government in about three months. The Government plans to make the report public. 

Last update: 08 Nov 2018

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