Friday, April 19, 2013

Nuclear Issues: Conference Urges Enhanced Nuclear Safety

By J C Suresh | IDN-InDepth NewsReport

OTTAWA (IDN) - Experts from more than 50 nuclear and non-nuclear countries have stressed the need for enhancing safety and security culture with a view to preventing the occurrence and minimizing the consequences of accidents in nuclear power plants. The call emerged from a four-day conference hosted by the Canadian government in Ottawa.

This was the third international conference of its kind organised by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) since the first such gathering held in Moscow in 2006, followed by the second 2009 in Cape Town, South Africa. The next International Regulatory Conference will take place in 2016 and will be hosted by the European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group (ENSREG) at a location yet to be determined.

IAEA Deputy Director General Denis Flory highlighted an important aspect of nuclear safety in a keynote address to the Plenary. "The regulatory authority must be effectively independent from all promotion of nuclear energy,” he said.

“The lesson (learned from Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster in March 2011 – Editor) is that the regulatory authority must have the human resources, the financial resources, and the technical competence to regulate nuclear energy. The regulatory authority must be established in a clear, simple, easy-to-understand manner," added Flory who heads the IAEA Department of Safety and Security.

According to Ruth Morgart of the IAEA Department of Nuclear Safety and Security, some of the main conclusions from the conference included:

- Peer reviews must clearly include national action plans and follow-up missions to complete the process;

- While regulators perform detailed assessments of regulatory requirements, systems and processes following significant operational events, they do not have a systematic way of collecting, analyzing and sharing regulatory experience, nor do they routinely assess less significant events and issues which would contribute toward continuously improving the regulatory process;

- Spent fuel pool safety should be reviewed regarding obvious weaknesses in defense in depth and possible new mechanisms to eliminate as far as possible the possibility of serious accidents occurring;

- Emphasizing the importance of communication, coordination and consistency in national and international responses to emergencies, regulators should ensure that national communication plans are developed, tested, implemented and improved well before any accident occurs;

- Introducing a nuclear power programme entails a wide range of long term safety and security infrastructure issues, including the establishment of an effective nuclear regulatory system, as well as responsibilities that go beyond national borders. Regulators should use the IAEA peer review process as early as possible, report the results openly and take the needed follow-up actions;

- Projected growth in nuclear power combined with retiring experts will require a workforce with the skills necessary to face these challenges. A more consistent, international effort is still needed and the IAEA was called upon to take further actions on these issues; and

- Regulators must promote a blame-free, but accountable safety and security culture, recognizing that humans are fallible and promoting the concept of shared accountability – that good system design and staff's good behavioural choices together produce good results.

The conference president Tero Varjoranta, who heads STUK, the Finnish Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority, concluded that nuclear safety is better today than a year ago. Since the previous Cape Town Conference in 2009 and the Fukushima accident in 2011, much experience in several areas has been transformed into regulatory improvement.

According to Varjoranta, the IAEA Nuclear Safety Action Plan, and national Action Plans mirroring the IAEA Plan, formed an important framework for the Conference, for example, that the nuclear community – especially regulators – had made a substantial effort and invested many resources into understanding what happened and why. ‘Stress tests’, whose scope covered a variety of issues, were carried out in all nuclear power plants around the world.

Varjoranta noted that the conference addressed key technical areas that are crucial to ensuring greater reactor and spent fuel safety. He further pointed out that the nuclear community had invested much effort into assessing and improving emergency management, by updating and integrating emergency response plans, developing and improving on-site and off-site resources (for example, radiation monitors, communication infrastructure and response centres), strengthening training, enhancing procedures and conducting both national and international drills.

Varjoranta added: "The world continues to change whether we want it to or not. In light of the latest IAEA projections, the Fukushima accident and the current economic challenges facing countries, regulatory challenges and the workload will not decrease in the future – the demands are increasing for everyone to be more effective and efficient, ensuring that every euro/dollar is well spent in terms of safety."

He said: "A lot has been done and still much more remains to be done and that will take many years. Accordingly, new actions are likely to be required by regulators to continue to transform experience into regulatory improvements."

During the closing remarks, Ramzi Jammal, Conference co-president and Executive Vice-President and Chief Regulatory Operations Officer of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), stated: "The topics we've explored . . . have given us all the chance to reflect on how we can further improve the safety of our nuclear facilities, and the outcome of the work we've undertaken this past week will add to our ongoing commitment to become more effective regulators."

"The Conference discussions have reinforced the importance of openness and transparency, and the critical role that communication plays in maintaining public confidence. I trust that everyone here will continue to build on the momentum we've created, make every effort to take action on the lessons we've learned, and be vigilant in following up on the commitments made from this meeting. I look forward to our continued discussions on this," Jammal said. [IDN-InDepthNews – April 18, 2013]

Photo: (From Left) Denis Flory, IAEA Deputy Director General of the Department of Nuclear Safety and Security; Youn-Won Park, President, Korea Institute of Nuclear Safety (Republic of Korea); Tero Varjaranta, Chairman of STUK; Finnish Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority, Ramzi Jammal; Executive Vice-President and Chief Regulatory Operations Officer of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), Dr. Michael Binder, President and Chief Executive Officer of the CNSC. | Credit: IAEA