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IAEA Mission Says Switzerland Is Committed to a High Level of Safety, Sees Areas for Further Enhancement

Brugg, Switzerland

An International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) team of experts said Switzerland is committed to maintaining and strengthening its regulatory framework for nuclear and radiation safety, as the country moves ahead with its plans to phase out nuclear power.

The team added that a key challenge is to keep and to build new safety competence for the future by evaluating anticipated gaps in expertise and in identifying actions required to fill them.

The Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) team concluded a twelve-day mission to Switzerland on 29 October. The mission was conducted at the request of the Government of Switzerland and hosted by the Swiss Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate (ENSI), the national regulatory body for safety and security of nuclear facilities.

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

The 20 member team, comprised of 17 senior regulatory experts from 15 countries, as well as 3 IAEA staff members, reviewed facilities and activities regulated by ENSI. This included the four Swiss nuclear reactors which generate 35% of the country’s electricity, one operational research reactor and a national interim storage facility for radioactive waste. Switzerland decided in 2011 to phase out nuclear power and, in 2017, Swiss citizens voted in a referendum endorsing a new energy law to promote renewable energy and to approve a ban on new nuclear power plants.

Activities covered during the safety review included emergency preparedness and response, transport, decommissioning, occupational exposure control, environmental monitoring and public exposure, and the safety interface with nuclear security. The IRRS Team also reviewed the licensing process and regulatory guidelines for the ongoing plans for constructing a deep geological waste repository. The mission also used the opportunity to exchange information on national regulatory implications of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The team visit was part of the  second IRRS mission cycle to be held in Switzerland, the first was in 2011, with a follow-up in 2015, which also had the same scope to review facilities and activities regulated by ENSI.

“Switzerland has a mature regulatory infrastructure for nuclear safety and radiation protection. As the country phases out its national nuclear power programme, its  main challenge at the national level  is to maintain and build the competence of parties with safety responsibilities, that is, ENSI and the nuclear industry including NPP licensees,” said IRRS team leader Petteri Tiippana, Director General of the Finnish Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority – STUK - who led the team.

“ENSI welcomes an IAEA review of our oversight work to better understand the degree of implementation of IAEA safety standards in Switzerland,” said Marc Kenzelmann, ENSI Director General. “The outcomes of the mission will strengthen our regulatory framework by setting out the precise areas to focus on within ENSI’s continuous improvement programme.”

During the mission, the team conducted interviews with management and staff from ENSI and the nuclear facilities, as well as from other national authorities and one non-governmental organization. The team also accompanied ENSI during their inspection and oversight activities at regulated facilities.

The team identified good practices in the area of safety culture. ENSI continuously improves its internal safety culture and promotes the proactive safety culture of licensees through periodic focus groups.

Good performances have been also acknowledged, including:

  • The role of ENSI in implementing the regulatory policy and associated requirements for continued safety improvements at nuclear power plants.
  • The collaborative dialogue among all Federal and Cantonal authorities involved in the licensing process of nuclear facilities.
  • The periodic security background tests for ENSI’s staff, including evaluation of a potential lack of impartiality.

The IRRS Team also identified several recommendations and suggestions to further enhance the Swiss regulatory system and the effectiveness of the regulatory functions in line with IAEA safety standards, including:

  • The Government should set up legal provisions to allow for the prosecution of a licensee in addition to an individual.
  • ENSI should update its procedures for clarifying the role of inspectors in the enforcement process, including in relation to the immediate corrective actions inspectors are authorized to take.

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


General information about IRRS missions can be found on the IAEA website. IRRS are used to advise Member States on ways to strengthen and enhance the effectiveness of national regulatory frameworks for nuclear, radiation, radioactive waste and transport safety while recognizing the ultimate responsibility of each State to ensure safety in these areas.

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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