Following an 11-day mission to South Africa, an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) team said on 15 December that South Africa has a robust regulatory framework for nuclear safety but recommended improvements in the oversight of radiation safety.

South Africa’s regulatory responsibilities are shared by the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR), which regulates the operation of nuclear facilities and fuel-cycle facilities, and the Directorate Radiation Control (RadCon) in the Department of Health (DOH), which regulates the use of radiation sources in medicine and industry.

“We found that the NNR is an effective regulatory authority with competent staff, a strong safety culture and solid infrastructure,” said team leader Victor McCree, Executive Director for Operations at the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. He noted that RadCon lacked sufficient financial resources and staff to fully maintain its regulatory function and welcomed a government initiative to integrate the regulatory responsibilities of NNR and RadCon into one single authority. He called for accelerating the process to further strengthen regulatory oversight of nuclear and radiation safety.

The Koeberg NPP near Cape Town has two reactors that generate almost 5%   of South Africa’s electricity. South Africa also has one research reactor, several fuel cycle and waste management facilities and uranium mines. It also uses many radiation sources in medical and industrial applications.

The 27-member IRRS team comprised experts from Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Cuba, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Spain, Pakistan, the Republic of Korea, Romania, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States of America as well as four IAEA staff members.

The team identified good practices, including: the NNR's scholarship and internship programme, which contributes to its recruitment of qualified and experienced staff; and the NNR’s requirement that the operator of the research reactor must develop a detailed ageing management programme to demonstrate that it can continue to operate safely.

The mission recommended that:

  • The government should ensure that the regulatory authorities are effectively independent by allocating adequate resources and ensuring that regulatory judgements and decisions can be made without undue influences that might compromise safety.
  • The government should develop a legal framework that addresses safety and its interface with security, including arrangements for safety and security of radioactive sources. The government should establish a policy for decommissioning facilities and a process to develop waste management plans, as well as complete its plans to create a national fund for radioactive waste management.
  • The regulatory authorities should develop and maintain regulations and guides consistent with international standards.
  • The regulatory authorities should systematically collect and analyse operating experience.
  • The regulatory authorities should systematically plan and prioritise inspections, and record and analyse inspection findings.
  • The regulatory authorities should provide clear regulatory guidance for licensees on when to declare an emergency so that timely actions can be taken to protect the public and the environment from releases of radioactive material.

The final mission report will be provided to the government within three months, after which it will be made public.