25th Anniversary of IAEA Department of Nuclear Safety and Security: Continuing to Support Member States

Protect, Preserve, Regulate – At the heart of the Department for Nuclear Safety and Security’s (NS) work is the protection of people and the environment from the harmful effects of ionizing radiation – and this year marks its 25th Anniversary.

“Over the years, the IAEA has provided Member States with services to meet their dynamic and challenging demands in the peaceful applications of nuclear science and technology, which entails high levels of safety and security to protect people and the environment,” said Lydie Evrard, Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Nuclear Safety and Security. “The Agency is fully committed to coordinating and supporting efforts to strengthen nuclear safety and security worldwide.”

In using nuclear technology – safety and security come first. Using radiation sources for beneficial purposes requires appropriate protection of workers, patients, the public and the environment from the harmful effects of ionizing radiation.

“The IAEA Safety Standards provide the fundamental principles, requirements and recommendations to ensure nuclear safety and are the basis of our work in this area. Equally critical is the Nuclear Security Series, which provides comprehensive guidance for enhancing a national nuclear security regime,” said Evrard. In the past 25 years, over 200 Safety Standards and 42 Nuclear Security Guidance have been issued.

Nuclear safety and nuclear security share the same goal: to protect people and the environment from harmful effects of ionizing radiation. While nuclear safety focuses on preventing incidents and accidents and protecting the public from the release of radiation, nuclear security aims to ensure that radioactive material does not fall into the wrong hands. “It is important that actions taken to strengthen nuclear safety and nuclear security complement each other,” said Evrard.

Formerly nuclear safety was a division within the Department of Nuclear Energy. In November 1989, this Division was restructured to cover a wider spectrum of safety topics following the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant accident, and in 1996 the Department of Nuclear Safety was created with two Divisions: Radiation and Waste Safety and Nuclear Installation Safety. The Office of Nuclear Security was established in 2002 following the 11 September terrorist attacks in the United States, after which the Department was renamed as Department of Nuclear Safety and Security, and in 2014, the Office became the Division of Nuclear Security. The Incident and Emergency Centre was established in 2005.

Events such as the Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accidents, the Goiania radioactive contamination accident and 9/11 led the international community to take concrete steps to improve nuclear safety and security and also contributed to widening the areas of work the IAEA engages in.

Four Divisions – Radiation, Transport and Waste Safety, Nuclear Installation Safety, Safety and Security Coordination, Nuclear Security and the Incident and Emergency Centre carry out the activities of the Department, that also includes the coordination for Fukushima ALPS treated water project.

Snapshot: salient milestones

The Department not only establishes safety standards and security guidance documents but also promotes its application through peer review and advisory services. It conducts 17 different peer review missions. The IAEA has conducted and implemented more than 1200 nuclear safety and security missions of various kinds. These missions have contributed to enhancing and implementing the high levels of nuclear safety and security and to establish effective legal and regulatory systems worldwide.

In terms of nuclear installation safety – the safety of power plants, research reactors and other fuel cycle facilities – the Department focuses on promoting a high level of safety throughout the total lifecycle of facilities by establishing modern safety standards and providing for their application. Over the years, the quality of safety standards has grown to represent best practices worldwide, said Evrard. The Department’s primary goal is to assist Member States in developing sound and sustainable nuclear safety infrastructure for all their nuclear installations, including strengthening the nuclear safety culture among management and staff.

As we look toward the future, evolutionary and innovative nuclear power technologies, and the bridge between these systems and the current fleet, must prioritize nuclear safety. The Department is fully committed to the Agency-wide platform set in 2020 for small modular reactors (SMRs) and coordinates the work on establishing a roadmap for the application of IAEA safety standards to innovative reactors, particularly SMRs.

Many operators and governments are also seeking ways to extend the lives of their current facilities toward long term operation (LTO). The IAEA has been coordinating international cooperation and the sharing of best practices in this area since 2010, when it launched the International Generic Ageing Lessons Learned (IGALL) Programme.

Other notable achievements in the field of nuclear safety include the 200th nuclear power plant Operational Safety Review to Spain, and the 100th Integrated Regulatory Review Service Mission in Hungary – both in 2018.

Continuous progress in the application of the Code of Conduct on the Safety of Research Reactors by authorities and operators around the world has also strengthened nuclear safety at these reactors globally. Such progress has led to enhanced regulatory oversight of these facilities.

The work of the Department has also resulted in further enhancement of radiation safety infrastructure in Member States through systematic assessment of needs and capacity building tools, such as the postgraduate educational course in radiation protection and the safety of radiation sources (PGEC) and the Regulatory Authority Information System (RAIS).

The activities of the Department also include “our support to Member States in effective and continuous regulatory and management control of radioactive sources – this is of the utmost importance in preventing unauthorized use, accidents or malicious acts, including those with harmful radiological consequences,” said Evrard.

The uses of sealed radioactive sources are important for many nuclear applications, including in industry, medicine, agriculture and research. An important landmark in this area is the Code of Conduct on the Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources, a non-binding instrument covering the establishment of an adequate system of regulatory control for radioactive sources.

In the area of nuclear security, the IAEA plays a central role in helping countries to improve their nuclear security framework. The nuclear security programme has been one of the fastest growing programmes of the IAEA.

Services such as International Physical Protection Advisory Service (IPPAS), established in 1995, celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2020 and to date 92 missions have taken place. There are 90 approved Integrated Nuclear Security Support Plans (INSSP) to date, which play a key role in assisting countries to strengthen their nuclear security regimes.

Education and training play an essential role in nuclear security capacity building. Competent staff, trained in all aspects of nuclear security and its complexities, helps to establish and maintain a national nuclear security regime that is sustainable over time. Further, the IAEA supports the procurement of equipment and performs acceptance tests and maintenance for different types of radiation detection equipment. It also provides technical support for the IAEA’s coordinated research projects on detection equipment and nuclear forensics.

The IAEA Incident and Trafficking Database (ITDB) system launched in 1995 is another unique asset that assists the IAEA, participating States and relevant international organizations in improving nuclear security.

The Incident and Emergency Centre provides a 24/7 response infrastructure and serves as a platform for international notification and collaboration in case of a nuclear or radiological emergency. In March 2011, it was activated in full response following the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant accident. For 54 days and nights around the clock, 230 staff members from across the IAEA worked in the operational area. Based on the lessons of this operation, the Centre further strengthened and modernised its logistics, systems and infrastructure.

International Conventions

International Conventions contribute to and play a key role in promoting and strengthening global nuclear safety and nuclear security

These include the 1996 Convention on Nuclear Safety, which commits Contracting Parties operating land-based civil nuclear power plants to maintain a high level of safety; the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management, which is the first legal instrument to address the safety of spent fuel and radioactive waste management on a global scale.

Additionally, the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) and its 2005 Amendment, which entered into force on 8 May 2016 is a key legal instrument that makes it legally binding for State Parties to protect nuclear material for peaceful domestic use and storage and international transport and to protect facilities and transport from sabotage.

The Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident and the Convention on Assistance in the Case of a Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency (commonly referred to as the “Emergency Conventions) form the legal basis of the international emergency preparedness and response framework.

“Supporting our Member States in building capacities for adherence to these conventions are crucial to our core nuclear safety and nuclear security mandate, both in normal times and in an emergency, to strengthen safety and security worldwide,” Evrard said.

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