IAEA reviews UK regulatory framework

5 November 2019

An International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) team on 25 October concluded an 11-day mission to review the UK’s regulatory safety framework. The team said the UK is committed to strengthening its regulatory framework for nuclear and radiation safety and identified areas that would benefit from further enhancement. The UK has 15 operating nuclear power reactors at seven sites, generating 21% of its electricity, and two nuclear fuel reprocessing plants.

The review, requested by the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and hosted by the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) included 15 regulatory bodies. It was the fourth IRRS mission to the UK since the IAEA IRRS programme began in 2006, and the first full-scope mission to address both nuclear and radiation safety. The IRRS team comprised 18 senior regulatory experts from Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Hungary, India, Ireland, The Netherlands, Romania, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States, and three IAEA staff members.

Team leader Ramzi Jammal, executive vice-president and chief regulatory operations officer in the Regulatory Operations Branch of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), said: “The ONR has a mature regulatory framework that could be emulated by other countries’ regulatory authorities to improve their understanding and implementation of IAEA safety standards in the oversight of nuclear and radiation safety.”

The review covered regulatory responsibilities and functions of the Government; the global nuclear safety regime; management system and responsibilities, including authorisation, review and assessment, inspection, enforcement and the development and content of regulations and guides; and emergency preparedness and response. It also included the interfaces of safety with nuclear security. 

The team identified strengths in the UK’s regulatory authorities, including the competence of staff and the extensive regulatory guidance that has been developed for those legally responsible for nuclear and radiation safety at each site. The team concluded that ONR has clear strategies for the regulatory oversight of nuclear facilities providing an effective regulatory framework for nuclear and radiation safety.

The team identified the following good practices:

  • ONR has established a matrix management structure that effectively allocates resources and improves its hiring, training and strategic planning practices.
  • The regulatory authorities have introduced a system whereby security officers who specialise in radiological matters advise environmental regulators on security measures for category 1-4 radioactive sources.

The team provided recommendations for further improvement, including:

  • The UK Government should publish a single, formalised statement of its national policy and strategy for safety.
  • Several regulatory authorities should develop long term inspection programmes.
  • Several regulatory authorities should improve their respective human resource plans to align with their oversight functions for radiation safety.
  • All regulatory authorities should systematically take into account IAEA safety standards in the development of regulatory or internal guidance.



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