Power market developments: regulators
Reducing independence20 April 2012
Planned changes to the structure of the Taiwanese nuclear regulator buck the international trend for stronger, more independent nuclear regulation. By Yi-Bin Chen
By January 2013, Taiwan aims to establish a new Nuclear Safety Authority (NSA) to replace the Atomic Energy Council as the country’s nuclear regulatory body. As part of the restructuring, the AEC (currently an independent ministry) will be merged with the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST). In parallel, AEC’s technical support arm, the Institute of Nuclear Energy Research (INER), will be moved to another ministry and replaced with a much smaller technical support centre.
Taiwan’s Atomic Energy Council (AEC) was founded in 1955 at the ministerial level under the Executive Yuan (office of prime minister), to foster peaceful applications of atomic energy in Taiwan. Now with six NPP units in operation and two ABWR units under construction, AEC’s mission has long been shifted to nuclear reactor safety regulation, radiation protection, radwaste administration and R&D for civilian nuclear applications.
In 2004, the Taiwanese government launched a central government reform programme to reinforce its governance capacity and make administrative operations more effective and efficient. Reducing the number of ministries is the major goal of the reorganization. AEC is one of the smallest ministries and as such is targeted to be merged into one of the larger ministries.
The move will see the number of staff working for the Taiwanese regulatory body fall by three-quarters from 1200 to just 300 from January.
Today, AEC has around 240 regulatory staff: about 200 are based at AEC headquarters (including its subsidiary the Radioactive Waste Administration) in Taipei; and 40 staff work at the Radiation Monitoring Center in Kaohsiung. AEC’s technical support subsidiary the Institute of Nuclear Energy Research has over 900 staff. Since INER is the only nuclear research organization in Taiwan, INER also conducts contract work such as probabilistic safety assessments for the government-owned nuclear utility Taipower, in addition to supporting AEC as first priority. Both AEC and INER have been criticized from outside parties due to this conflict of interest. But Taiwan is a small country, and does not have enough resources to maintain two centres to support both the regulatory body and the utility.
In order to avoid a conflict of interest, the proposal for the current government reform is to move INER from AEC to the Ministry of Economy and Energy (MOEA) and rename it the Institute of Energy Research (IER). In Taiwan, energy policy is decided by MOEA, but in the past they have ignored the existence of nuclear.
Instead of changing to a stronger and more independent regulator after the Fukushima accident, AEC would come under the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) as a subsidiary named the Nuclear Safety Authority (NSA). NSA will have all the 240 regulatory staff of AEC and in addition a newly-established technical support centre of 60 staff. These vacancies will be used to recruit newcomers, mainly college graduates.
In addition, Taiwan proposes to set up a Committee on Nuclear Safety. It is proposed (not yet finalized) that the prime minister will chair this committee. My personal views are that this scheme goes against the principles of independence and freedom from political and economic pressure. The Nuclear Safety Commission in Japan has similar structure and the Fukushima accident proved that it did not work.
According to the IAEA International Nuclear Safety Group (INSAG) a strong and independent nuclear regulator needs:
1) Separation from promotion
2) To be free of political or economic influence
3) Sufficient resources, including technically- competent staff
4) Strong internal or external technical support
5) To directly conduct international cooperation.
Following the reform, NSA will be a subsidiary of MOST, which supports scientific research and promotes technology transfer, similar to the structure of the Korean nuclear regulatory system before October 2011 (see p13). After Taiwanese government reorganization, it will therefore be very difficult to achieve the goal of an independent and strong nuclear regulator demanded by IAEA safety regulations.
The best nuclear regulatory structure would report to the president or prime minister directly. If that is not possible, the regulatory body at least should be under the ministry with independent authority, that is, only the head of the regulatory body is appointed. AEC is at ministry level and so the only probable pressure is from the prime minister. NSA would no longer be at ministry level, so pressure could be internal or external to MOST.
It is not expected that the new technical support centre will be able to perform major supporting work in the near future (due to both manpower and experience; see above). Although NSA will not rule out giving contract work to IER, supporting Taipower will be IER’s first priority.
In conclusion, the Taiwanese government reform will transform AEC to a subsidiary of a ministry with fewer resources and fewer technical support staff, which is against the international trend of greater independence after Japan’s Fukushima accident.
Dr. Yi-Bin Chen, Director, Department of Nuclear Regulation, Atomic Energy Council
This article was published in the April 2012 issue of Nuclear Engineering International magazine.Related ArticlesTowards enhanced nuclear safety in Japan South Korea's regulatory changes