The 67th International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) General Conference ended last week with the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) playing an influential part during key discussions about nuclear and radiological safety, security and safeguards and effective regulation.
Attended by Mark Foy, ONR’s Chief Executive and Chief Nuclear Inspector, and supported by Paul Garesse, an ONR Regulatory Technical Advisor, the annual event in Vienna provided meaningful opportunities to engage with fellow international regulators and senior government representatives from across the world to strengthen our relationship with these key stakeholders.
Some of the important conversations during the week focused on the assessment and licensing of Small Modular Reactors and Advanced Nuclear Technologies, and updates on the ongoing conflict in Ukraine to ensure preparedness for a global level response to any actions that could compromise nuclear safety.
Up to 177 Member States convened at the event where members approved the reappointment of Rafael Mariano Grossi as IAEA Director General for a second four-year term, following which he made his oath of office.
Within the General Conference setting, ONR also attended the 52nd Meeting of the International Nuclear Regulators’ Association (INRA) on Tuesday, which exchanges regulatory policy perspectives to further nuclear safety and security standards on a global level.
INRA is made up of nine member countries – Canada, France, Germany, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Spain, Sweden, the UK and the United States.
On this occasion hosted by Germany, the meeting featured updates on the conflict in Ukraine and any potential risks to civil nuclear facilities. The main INRA discussion concentrated on decommissioning and dismantling nuclear sites, with particular focus on maintaining a robust safety culture during these periods and how best to sustain high levels of expertise.
At a separate Ukrainian-led side event, entitled: ‘Nuclear Safety, Security and Safeguards in Ukraine,’ Mark delivered a speech after being invited onto a panel with fellow international regulator leaders from Canada, the United States, Norway and representatives from the IAEA and the European Commission.
He told the meeting: “We must continue to give our support to ensure Ukraine and its State Nuclear Radiation Inspectorate to ensure that they feel part of the international community, [showing] that we are listening to the challenges they face, willing to provide advice and overt support.
“Recognising the extremely difficult situation that they face, reinforcing the importance and international standing of Ukraine, and condemning the actions of the Russian Federation.
“The IAEA missions to each of the nuclear facilities in Ukraine have been an essential part of understanding the condition of the plant, what is happening on these sites and the health and well-being of the people – an important role that allows the international community to gain levels of assurance on safety, particularly at Zaporizhzhia.”
On Wednesday, Mark attended the Western European Nuclear Regulators’ Association (WENRA) strategy meeting, which included a review of the Polish National Atomic Energy Agency (PAA) application to be full member of the association.
Also on the agenda was a review of the draft WENRA strategy, intended to reflect the new challenges across the international environment which national nuclear regulatory bodies will have to prepare for and respond to.
The draft strategy will be submitted to the plenary for full consideration in November. Following that meeting Mark will take over the role as the Chair of WENRA.
The IAEA is the international centre for cooperation in the nuclear field and the agency works with its Member States and multiple partners worldwide to promote the safe, secure and peaceful use of nuclear technologies.
For ONR, this means engagement throughout the year with the agency on IAEA safety standards and security guidance, technical guides, cooperation initiatives and nuclear safeguards.
Reflecting on the General Conference week, Mark said: “Having a strong relationship with the IAEA and our fellow national regulators enables us to play a central role in contributing to effective international cooperation and standards on nuclear safety, security, and safeguards. Attending the General Conference is an essential part of strengthening those relationships.
“Maintaining leading, proactive role at the conference enables us to influence globally, learn from relevant international experience and good practice, maintain alignment with international partners while also instilling confidence in ONR, our regulatory practices and the performance of the UK’s nuclear industry.”
Mark Foy’s speech in full from General Conference side event
Many of you were present at the EU’s side event on Ukraine earlier this week, where much of the discussion looked back over the last 18-months of the conflict. Its impact on the nuclear facilities, and on the Ukrainian people. People who continue to work in the most difficult situations, to ensure nuclear and radiation safety on behalf of our, global society. During the session, emphasis was also given to the different types of support that have been provided to Ukraine over this period, which has to continue.
We must continue to give our support to ensure Ukraine and its State Nuclear Radiation Inspectorate to ensure they feel part of the international community, that we are listening to the challenges they face, willing to provide advice and overt support. Recognising their extremely difficult situation that they face, reinforcing the importance and international standing of Ukraine, and condemning the actions of the Russian Federation.
The IAEA missions to each of the nuclear facilities in Ukraine have been an essential part of understanding the condition of the plant, what is happening on these sites and the health and well-being of the people. An important role that allows the international community to gain levels of assurance on safety, particularly at Zaporizhzhia.
The openness and transparency and sharing of information by SNRIU has enabled increasingly strong, trusting and respectful relationships to be develop with fellow national regulators and agencies, where the sharing of information occurs readily, leading to common understanding and assurance on the ever-evolving situation.
However, we do need to take the opportunity to reflect and consider the question – Is there more that we need to do as an international community?
Oleh Korikov and SNRIU have regularly stated that Ukraine cannot meet many of the fundamental safety principles and is unable to comply with aspects of international conventions.
The IAEAs seven pillars of safety and security for nuclear facilities in Ukraine are regularly compromised, specifically at Zaporizhzhia NPP, again confirmed by Petro Kotin the President of Energoatom earlier.
In addition, the first point of President Zelensky’s peace plan focuses on the need to restoring radiation and nuclear safety a Zaporizhzhia NPP.
Such a position and challenging situation requires us to consider whether there is more that we can do now and how this can be achieved. Considering some of these areas:
- Health and wellbeing of staff on site – The workers, the people, the Ukrainian citizens, that attend site, day in day out are fundamental to the ongoing safety of nuclear facilities at Zaporizhzhia and elsewhere. We cannot underestimate the immense stress and pressure they are under, which will only get worse with time. We have to ensure that we provide the counselling and support necessary to protect their mindfulness and ensure they continue to be willing and are able to fulfil their important roles.
- The level of assurance on the ongoing condition of plants and safety of NPPS etc – IAEA missions are essential; the teams are doing great work. But it is evident the long-term will require sustainable arrangements, more resources than have been available to date. We should also consider whether there are other options to gain greater assurance on the management of safety on the occupied site at Zaporizhzhia.
- Readiness for an incident – Since the outset many nations have undertaken analyses of accident scenarios associated nuclear facilities in Ukraine. The international community needs to ensure that it is prepared for a range of potential scenarios associated with the conflict and their impact on nuclear facilities in Ukraine. Equipment, countermeasures, and the consistency of advice we will provide to the public.
- But this also extends to the potential for a wider conflict – Conflict beyond the boundaries of Ukraine cannot be discounted. The impact of armed conflict on the safety and security of nuclear facilities beyond Ukraine needs proper consideration – The work by Committee on Safety Standards is important in establishing a Tech Doc in this area, that will provide guidance on a consistent approach for Member States in considering the safety of nuclear facilities at a time of war.
- Preparedness for the future – Future scenarios beyond the war, including the recovery of Ukraine once the conflict has ceased and peace is restored must be considered, along with any associated preparations.
- I also ask whether you believe the Russian Federation is truly being held to account by Member States – Something I have observed and believe has been a challenge to do well over the last 18-months.
I am aware that work is ongoing in many of these areas. My comments are intended as points to stimulate your thinking and moments of reflection on whether you are happy with what we have done and are planning to do. We should not get complacent, there is always more that we can do.
Finally, I would like to recognise the bravery and resilience of the Ukrainian people and the colleagues at SNRIU. We in the international community look on with admiration at the resilience you continually demonstrate in the face of the utmost adversity. Please be assured of our unwavering support, our thoughts are with you every day.