IAEA mission to the UK sees progress in nuclear and radiation safety

31 January 2024

An International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) follow-up mission said the UK has a strong commitment to nuclear and radiation safety and has made progress to reinforce its regulatory functions. The team also identified areas for further enhancements.

The mission, conducted at the request of the UK Government, took place at the headquarters of the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) and Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR). Its purpose was to evaluate the implementation of recommendations provided during the initial IRRS mission in 2019.

The IRRS team comprised seven senior regulatory experts from seven IAEA member states, three IAEA staff members, and one observer from Canada. The team held interviews with 13 regulatory authorities included within the scope of the review.

In the UK, nuclear and radiation technologies are used in various sectors for energy production, healthcare, industry and research. Nine nuclear power reactors provide just over 14% of the UK’s electricity. The UK Government plans to quadruple UK nuclear power by 2050.

The IRRS team said that since 2019, the UK regulatory bodies involved in the review have shown a strong professionalism and commitment in carrying out their mandate to nuclear and radiation safety in the UK. Of the 24 recommendations and 19 suggestions made in 2019, 19 recommendations and 10 suggestions have been successfully addressed and closed. Notable achievements included:

  • The establishment of the Radiological Safety Group, an overarching coordination group, which consists of senior officials from all government departments and regulatory bodies having responsibilities for radiological safety, and the associated Radiological Safety Working Group.
  • A new requirement under which an applicant must submit a safety assessment to the regulator before obtaining an authorisation to operate a facility or conduct an activity with radiation sources.
  • The Environment Agency introduced a new nuclear Radioactive Substances Regulation business planning process to ensure a graded approach to safety inspections.
  • The UK developed a new framework for facilitating national-level contribution and communication of IAEA safety standards updates.

“This IRRS follow-up mission demonstrated that the UK has made continuous improvements since the IRRS 2019 mission to the highest standards of nuclear and radiation safety,” said Ramzi Jammal, team leader and acting CEO of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. “The findings of the mission will contribute to the ongoing efforts to ensure a robust regulatory framework for the benefit of the public and the environment.”

Four good performances were recognised by the team:

  • The Openness and Transparency Policy of ONR.
  • The decision to commission an independent and transparent assessment of ONR’s culture and to publish the assessment report.
  • The establishment of a nuclear site resource prioritisation tool by the Environment Agency (EA).
  • The UK regulatory framework Draft Standards & Guidance Status Spreadsheet, which facilitates the national coordination in relation to the IAEA safety standards updates.

“We thank the IRRS mission team members for productive discussions on the UK’s radiological safety framework,” said a spokesperson for the Department for Energy Security & Net Zero. “We are committed to maintaining the highest nuclear safety standards and are grateful for the hard work of our government departments and regulatory bodies across the four nations of the UK in helping to make the mission a success. It comes at an important moment for British nuclear as the Government recently set out plans for a revival to deliver up to 24 GW by 2050. This will require a robust regulatory framework and significant work has already been done by UK regulators to develop their approach and work more closely with international partners.”

In its report, the team made six new findings consisting of four recommendations and two suggestions in relation to the topics covered during the IRRS initial mission. In particular, the team noted that the inability to recruit and retain specialists and inspectors has had an impact on the regulatory processes of some bodies. The team recommended a pay reform where required in order to ensure the statutory remit is delivered.

Image courtesy of IAEA

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