IAEA commends Belgium's commitment to safety

5 July 2023

An International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) mission said the Belgian Government and the national regulatory bodies have demonstrated their commitment to continuous improvement in nuclear and radiation safety. The team also noted the need to identify and secure sufficient financial resources and competences for the regulator in given Belgium’s evolving nuclear energy context.

The IRRS mission was conducted at the request of the Government and hosted by the Federal Agency for Nuclear Control (FANC) and Bel V, that together form Belgium’s regulatory body. This was part of the second IRRS cycle to Belgium. The first mission took place in 2013, with a follow-up review in 2017. The IRRS team included 19 senior regulatory experts from 18 member states and three IAEA staff members

Belgium operates five nuclear power reactors at two NPPs, Doel and Tihange, that provide 46.4 % of Belgium’s electricity production. In 2003, the decided to phase out nuclear power by 2025 but in 2022 took steps to extend the operation of Doel unit 4 and Tihange unit 3 until 2035. Two more reactors are in permanent shutdown. Other nuclear facilities include research reactors, a radioactive waste treatment facility and an isotope production facility. In addition, there is extensive medical and industrial applications of radioactive sources.

The review team conducted interviews and discussions with FANC and Bel V staff and also observed regulatory oversight activities at a NPP, a research reactor, a cyclotron for isotope production, a radioactive waste management facility, a nuclear medicine service in a hospital and a company for the transport of radioactive material. These visits included discussions with the management and staff.

The IRRS team identified good practice regarding the oversight of interfaces between safety and security. It particularly noted the conduct of annual inspections on this subject at NPPs. The team considered that the main challenge in Belgium was to identify and ensure the necessary competences and adequate financial resources of the regulatory body due to the evolving nuclear energy policy in the country.

“FANC is a mature regulatory body founded on a comprehensive regulatory framework, and Bel V as Technical Safety Organisation is fully engaged in supporting FANC in delivering its mandate. The uniqueness of Belgium’s safety and security interface is a model for all countries to protect the environment, the public and the workers effectively,” said IRRS team leader Ramzi Jammal from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. “The Government of Belgium must continuously support the FANC to ensure its sustained readiness under any future national nuclear energy strategy.”

The IRRS team identified several areas of good performance:

  • The development and effective use of advanced IT systems for managing the regulatory activities.
  • The development and implementation of the assessment of leadership for safety and safety culture within Bel V.
  • The way the regulatory body takes into consideration research and development results when preparing regulations and guides for radioactive waste management, including deep geological disposal.

“Although the nuclear environment in Belgium is changing, the review team confirms that as a regulatory body, we are well prepared to face present and future challenges. We remain committed to continuously improve our organisation and regulatory framework.” said FANC Director General Frank Hardeman.

The IRRS team also made several recommendations to further improve the regulatory system:

  • The Government should ensure that its decisions relating to the nuclear energy policy and the financial resources are made in a timely manner so that FANC fulfils its mandate under any circumstances.
  • The regulatory body should complete the regulations in relation to site evaluation for future nuclear facilities.
  • The regulatory body should revise the regulations relating to specific aspects of decommissioning; radiation sources facilities and activities; occupational, medical and public exposures; transport of radioactive material; and emergency preparedness and response.

An Integrated Review Service for Radioactive Waste and Spent Fuel, Decommissioning and Remediation (ARTEMIS) mission to Belgium is scheduled for later this year.

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