An International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Safety Aspects of Long Term Operation (SALTO) team has completed a review of long term operational safety at unit 1 of Argentina’s Atucha NPP at the request of plant operator Nucleoelectrica Argentina SA (NA-SA). Two IAEA Pre-SALTO missions in 2016 and 2018, followed by a Pre-SALTO follow-up in 2021, were previously conducted to review the long-term safety of the unit.

NA-SA is currently preparing to submit a licence renewal application to the Argentinian Nuclear Regulatory Authority (ARN) to extend the operating lifetime of the 362 MWe unit by 20 years. The plant, located 100 km north-west of Buenos Aires, went into commercial operation in 1974 and its current operating licence expires in 2024. The 745 MWe Unit 2 at the Atucha NPP started its commercial operation in May 2016 and was not part of the review.

During the 10-day mission, the team reviewed the plant’s preparedness, organisation and programmes for safe long-term operation (LTO). The 12-member team comprised experts from Belgium, Brazil, Japan, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, the USA, and two IAEA staff members. The team had in depth discussions with staff from Atucha 1 and conducted plant walkdowns during the review.

“The team noted the measures taken by the operator to ensure the safe LTO of the plant. Additionally, the professionalism, openness and receptiveness exhibited by the plant staff towards suggestions for improvement are commendable,” said Gabor Petofi, team leader and IAEA Senior Nuclear Safety Officer. “Many of the ageing management and LTO activities are already in alignment with IAEA Safety Standards. We encourage the plant to address the review findings and proceed with the implementation of all remaining activities for safe LTO.”

The team identified good practices and good performances that will be shared with the nuclear industry globally, including:

  • The qualification of coatings designed to ensure integrity of the containment building.
  • Comprehensive condition assessment reports for safety related structures, systems and components.
  • Objective score cards used for evaluation of applications for internal vacancies.

The team also provided recommendations to further enhance the preparations for LTO safety, including:

  • The plant should provide a systematic safety assessment to identify reasonable safety improvements for the operation period beyond 2024.
  • The plant should complete and implement the qualification programme for electrical components inside the containment.
  • The plant should improve the implementation of ageing management of civil structures.

The plant management expressed a determination to address the areas identified for improvement and invite a SALTO Follow-up mission in 2026.

“The IAEA and NA-SA teams showed a strong commitment to the successful implementation of the SALTO mission, working in a professional and collaborative environment, sharing information and experience,” said Eduardo Arostegui, site manager at Atucha NPP. “The SALTO findings will help us to ensure a safe and reliable development of LTO activities and will also improve performance for the second cycle of operation of Atucha I”.

The team provided a draft report to the plant management and ARN at the end of the mission for comment. A final report will be submitted to the plant management, ARN and the Argentinian Government within three months.

Image: Atucha nuclear power plant (courtesy of Nucleoelectrica Argentina)