SMR Digital Technologies and Computer Security: Interlinkages

The IAEA is spearheading an initiative to support countries on mitigating risks related to the computer security of small modular reactors (SMRs), many of which will rely on new digital instrumentation and control systems. A recent IAEA meeting on computer security and digital instrumentation and control (I&C) of SMRs addressed key topics to understand the potential risks. Topics included the operational aspects of SMRs such as remote and autonomous control, increasingly complex digital supply chains, and cloud computing.

“As more countries are interested in SMRs to address energy needs, the advanced SMR concepts also need to rely on digital instrumentation and control systems to maintain appropriate nuclear safety and security measures,” said Elena Buglova, Director of the IAEA Division of Nuclear Security. “This dependency on digital instrumentation and control systems, together with the SMRs and microreactors features, reinforces the need for computer security measures being considered and maintained during the entire plant lifecycle.”

Today’s digital technologies, such as artificial intelligence, digitally controlled operations, miniaturization of components, and wireless and automated technologies, provide solutions for complying with nuclear safety and security standards. Their increased use also presents a significant computer security challenge. Incidents of cyber-attacks on computer systems, across all industries, are a common occurrence and are reported regularly in the media.

Participants agreed that there is an urgent need for harmonization of national approaches and regulations to make the international market for SMRs viable, and reconfirmed the need for maintenance of computer security measures during the entire plant lifecycle, from design to decommissioning s. “The I&C solutions on standardized SMRs open a whole new technical field. The increasing automation needed for new modes of operation, and the extensive use of digital systems, calls for computer security measures and engineering solutions from the design level to guarantee safe and secure plant operation,” said Jorge Casanova, who attended the meeting from the Autoridad Regulatoria Nuclear in Argentina.

Strengthening the interaction and information exchange among international experts for I&C and computer security is important for the deployment of SMR/MRs. “The new I&C solutions for SMRs may challenge the more traditional regulatory requirements and guidance in the nuclear sector,” said Aline Des Cloizeaux, Director of the IAEA’s Division of Nuclear Power at the Department of Nuclear Energy and co-organizer of the event. “SMRs will need to achieve a cost-effective plant management to ensure economic competitiveness and I&C is a very significant part of it,” she added.

The meeting brought together global experts from all sectors of the nuclear industry to shape the roadmap of future activities in the area of computer security and digital I&C for SMRs/MRs. “The successful integration of digital technologies, including I&C, for the safety and security of SMRs will require a holistic approach at the onset of the design phase and throughout the SMRs’ entire life cycle,” said Kathleen Heppell-Masys, Director General, Directorate of Security and Safeguards of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, and Chair of the meeting.

The results of the discussions will be summarized to be published later in 2022. The aim is to provide a catalogue of potential future activities and cooperation in the areas of I&C and computer security, which could provide effective and efficient support to countries and stakeholders interested in the early deployment of SMRs/MRs.

The meeting was organized through contributions by the European Union and United States to the IAEA’s Nuclear Security Fund.

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