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IAEA Mission Says United Kingdom Committed to Enhancing Safety, Sees Areas for Further Improvement

Liverpool, United Kingdom

An International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) team of experts said the United Kingdom (UK) is committed to strengthening its regulatory framework for nuclear and radiation safety. The team identified areas that would benefit from further enhancement.

The Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) team on 25 October concluded an 11-day mission to review the country’s regulatory safety framework. The mission was requested by the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and hosted by the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR). Fifteen regulatory bodies were included within the scope of the review.

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.

It was the fourth IRRS mission to the United Kingdom since the IAEA IRRS programme began in 2006, and the first full scope mission which addresses both nuclear and radiation safety.

“The IRRS team compliments the UK for holding its first full scope IRRS mission, including all the 15 regulatory authorities,” said team leader Ramzi Jammal, Executive Vice-President and Chief Regulatory Operations Officer in the Regulatory Operations Branch of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. “The ONR has a mature regulatory framework that could be emulated by other countries’ regulatory authorities to improve their understanding and implementation of IAEA safety standards in the oversight of nuclear and radiation safety.”

The review covered the following areas: regulatory responsibilities and functions of the Government; the global nuclear safety regime; management system and responsibilities, including authorization, review and assessment, inspection, enforcement and the development and content of regulations and guides; and emergency preparedness and response. The review also included the interfaces of safety with nuclear security. The review team visited a nuclear power plant, an industrial radiography facility, a hospital and a waste management facility to observe national regulatory inspections.

The UK has 15 operational nuclear power reactors at seven plants, generating 21 percent of its electricity, and two nuclear fuel reprocessing plants.

The IRRS review team consisted of 18 senior regulatory experts from Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Hungary, India, Ireland, The Netherlands, Romania, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States, and three IAEA staff members.

Anthony Hart, UK project manager for the IRRS Mission, said: "The Mission has been a constructive and worthwhile experience thanks in no small part to the considerable advanced work and planning by the organizations that deliver the UK's regulation of nuclear and radiological safety. We would like to thank the IAEA Mission team for their focus and hard work over a very busy two weeks, and we are already looking ahead to the follow-up mission in three years' time."

The team identified strengths in the UK’s regulatory authorities, including the competence of staff and the extensive regulatory guidance that has been developed for those legally responsible for nuclear and radiation safety at each site. The team concluded that ONR has clear strategies for the regulatory oversight of nuclear facilities providing an effective regulatory framework for nuclear and radiation safety.

“The IRRS review mission highlights the ongoing work in the United Kingdom to enhance regulatory framework for nuclear and radiation safety. The main focus is on improving coordination between different authorities with responsibilities for safety. This helps to establish a consistent approach to safety and to avoid any omissions, duplications and conflicting requirements,” said Greg Rzentkowski, Director, Division of Nuclear Installation Safety, IAEA Department of Nuclear Safety and Security. “The mission clearly demonstrates the UK’s commitment to implement IAEA safety standards and to provide for the effective coordination of all regulatory functions.”

The team identified good practices, including:

  • ONR has established a matrix management structure that effectively allocates resources and improves its hiring, training and strategic planning practices.
  • The regulatory authorities have introduced a system whereby security officers who specialize in radiological matters advise environmental regulators on security measures for category 1-4 radioactive sources.

The team provided recommendations and suggestions to the regulatory authorities for further improvement, including:

  • The UK Government should publish a single, formalized statement of its national policy and strategy for safety.
  • Several regulatory authorities should develop long term inspection programmes.
  • Several regulatory authorities should improve their respective human resource plans to align with their oversight functions for radiation safety.
  • All regulatory authorities should systematically take into account IAEA safety standards in the development of regulatory or internal guidance.

The final mission report will be provided to the Government in about three months. The UK will publish the final report subject to Ministerial agreement.

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