On 12 April 2013, at the conclusion of the International Conference on Nuclear Regulatory Effectiveness, nuclear regulators from over 50 countries called for action to strengthen nuclear regulatory effectiveness and to increase their information sharing. The four-day event, hosted by the Canadian government in Ottawa, Canada, was convened to discuss nuclear regulatory challenges and lessons learned in light of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident. This was the third International Conference of its kind organized by the IAEA since the initial Conference held in Moscow in 2006.
Tero Varjoranta, Chairman of STUK, the Finnish Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority, and president of the Conference, 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. He mentioned that 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 key technical areas that are crucial to ensuring greater reactor and spent fuel safety have been addressed. He further stated 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 (e.g., radiation monitors, communication infrastructure and response centers), strengthening training, enhancing procedures and conducting both national and international drills.
Varjoranta stated: “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.”
“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,” Varjoranta said.
Varjoranta further called for a “regulatory operating experience program” directed toward improving regulations and regulatory systems and processes. For example, further guidance could be developed regarding the reporting threshold for reportable issues and events, and the IAEA could be instrumental in evaluating and establishing such a system.
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 this week 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.
Mr. Denis Flory, IAEA Deputy Director General of the Department of Nuclear Safety and Security, stated in closing: “This Conference addressed challenging issues; many proposals for the future have been expressed and discussed. From the IAEA Secretariat, I can assure you that we shall take on board our part of the implementation of actions identified to improve nuclear regulation.”
Some of the main conclusions from this 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 behavioral choices together produce good results.
The International Conference on Effective Nuclear Regulatory Systems met from 8 to 12 April 2013 in Ottawa, Canada, and was the third International Conference of its kind organized by the IAEA. Nearly 300 attendees from more than 50 nuclear and non-nuclear countries participated in these discussions.
Earlier Conferences were held in 2006 in Moscow and in 2009 in Cape Town, South Africa. Like the earlier Conferences, the Ottawa Conference focuses on global nuclear safety efforts undertaken by senior nuclear safety and security regulators from countries embarking, expanding, maintaining or phasing out their nuclear power programmes.
The Conference theme focused on Transforming Experience into Regulatory Improvements. Additionally, this Conference was organized in connection with the implementation of the IAEA Action Plan on Nuclear Safety as the first experts meeting for regulators following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident.
This four-day Conference was hosted by the Government of Canada through the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC).
IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano provided a video statement for the opening plenary session, which can be viewed here.
Denis Flory, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Safety and Security, discussed the regulatory aspects of the implementation of the IAEA Action Plan on Nuclear Safety in a keynote speech to the Plenary.
“The regulatory authority must be effectively independent from all promotion of nuclear energy. The lesson 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,” he said.
This IAEA Conference’s particular significance was its focus on the regulatory implications of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident and lessons learned for all nuclear regulators – including in countries that do not have operating nuclear power plants. Topical sessions addressed the needs of the regulator to:
• Enhance regulatory measures aimed at preventing the occurrence and minimizing the consequences of nuclear accidents;
• Address lessons learned and challenges in the management of radioactive waste and spent fuel, with a focus on long-term management and disposal;
• Enhance transparency and communication among regulators and relevant stakeholders;
• Strengthen international cooperation on emergency preparedness and response;
• Support newcomer countries in establishing and strengthening the regulatory framework for their emerging nuclear power programmes; and
• Enhance safety and security culture in the light of human and organizational factors.
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.