Operation and maintenance of nuclear power plants

Safe, reliable and economic nuclear power plants typically exhibit careful, conservative operation and rigorous, well-planned maintenance activities to minimize risks to workers, the public and the environment. The IAEA Safety Standards, technical reports and safety review services help Member States achieve these goals.

Well-managed nuclear power plants continually strive to improve their standards of operation and maintenance. Maintenance includes preventive and corrective measures that ensure structures, systems and components are able to perform their design functions. Typical activities include overhaul, repair and replacement of system components and may be enhanced by testing, calibration and in-service inspections.

The organization operating a nuclear power plant is responsible for its safety. As well as both internal and external self-assessments, an independent regulatory body provides oversight through inspection activities and enforcement action where necessary. The IAEA’s Safety Standards, developed on the basis of international consensus, address all aspects of safety in the operation of nuclear power plants and regulatory activities. They include requirements for the management of safety and the organizational and technical aspects of safety during the life cycle of nuclear power plants. They include implementing guides for all major types of facilities.

Nuclear power plants undergo regular safety reviews and assessments of their essential structures, systems and components. This is particularly important if a plant’s operating license is to be revalidated or renewed for operation beyond the originally intended life of the facility, also known as ‘Long Term Operation’.

To achieve the goal of safe, economic and reliable operation, a Plant Life Management (PLiM) programme is essential to identify all requirements for the overall life cycle of a nuclear power plant. An effective PLiM programme ensures that nuclear power plants integrate their operations, maintenance, engineering, regulatory, environmental and economic planning activities to manage the material condition of a plant to ensure safe long-term operation.

To assist Member States in integrating ageing, engineering, human resource and economic aspects of nuclear power plants, the IAEA has developed guidelines on PLiM programmes. It also delivers training and offers technical assistance and expert missions to Member States.

The Agency also provides safety review services based on the IAEA safety standards to help operating organizations achieve and maintain the highest levels of operational safety. To support regulatory bodies, it offers technical advisory and safety review services to enhance their capacity for independent, effective regulatory supervision of nuclear power plant safety. 

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