Chapter 46: Nuclear Safety Infrastructure

This chapter was published on “Inuitech – Intuitech Technologies for Sustainability” on January 17, 2013.

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) several countries expanded their current nuclear power programmes.  In the Agency’s latest projections for nuclear power, the low projection foresaw an installed global nuclear power capacity of about 546 GW (e) in 2030, a 46 percent increase over the roughly 375 GW (e) currently installed.  The high projection foresaw about 803 GW(e), which is more than double the current capacity, and therefore poses a significant safety challenge to the world nuclear community.  In addition, plans for some new nuclear power programmes are moving faster than the establishment of the necessary safety infrastructure and capacity.

The global nuclear power industry continued to require substantial efforts by designers, manufacturers, operators, regulators and other stakeholders to satisfy diverse quality and safety requirements and licensing processes, along with the recognized need in industry and among regulators to standardize and harmonize these requirements and processes. In some cases, plans for nuclear power programme development moved faster than the establishment of the necessary regulatory and safety infrastructure and capacity. To assist Member States in this effort, the Regulatory Cooperation Forum (RCF) was formed in June 2010. The RCF is a regulator-to-regulator forum that optimizes regulatory support from Member States with advanced nuclear power programmes to newcomer Member States or, on request, to those States that are expanding their nuclear power programmes. The Agency is actively involved in the development of safety goals for a robust and technically consistent framework for nuclear power plants and other nuclear and radiation installations and activities. This requires a holistic consideration of quantitative and qualitative criteria to ensure that no individual bears unacceptable radiation risks.

The decision of a country to embark on a nuclear power programme entails a long term commitment (of more than a century) to the peaceful, safe and secure use of nuclear technology based on a sustainable organizational, regulatory, social, technological and economic infrastructure. Experience has demonstrated that reliance on robust design and engineered safety systems alone is insufficient to ensure nuclear safety. A nuclear power plant is operated by people, and thus the achievement of safety requires qualified managerial and operating personnel with an appropriately embedded safety culture. Safe operation can only be ensured if there is a comprehensive infrastructure in place that is properly maintained and improved throughout the duration of the nuclear power programme.


The scope of the nuclear safety infrastructure includes the planning, regulating, decision making, designing, constructing, commissioning, operating and decommissioning of a new nuclear power project in countries with limited or no nuclear power experience and to those interested in expanding their nuclear power programmes.  It is also includes addressing to reactor suppliers and relevant institutions in the vendor countries who may provide the technology, as well as scientific and technical institutions that may support these activities.

It is divided into the following five phases:

1.1                Phase 1: Safety Infrastructure Considerations before a Decision to Launch a Nuclear Power Programme is taken:

In launching a nuclear programme, the government should undertake the enactment or amendment of any nuclear legislation or law so as to encompass the new activity. The basic law should identify nuclear activities and facilities that require a specific license and it should establish the licensing process. It should also appoint a regulatory body with the responsibility to develop and promulgate detailed safety regulations and to arrange for the safety evaluation and oversight of the previously defined nuclear facilities and activities. The nuclear legislation should also allocate the safety responsibilities and cover the radiation protection principles, third party civil nuclear liability, fuel cycle activities, transportation of nuclear substances and radioactive material, decommissioning, radioactive waste and spent fuel management. The government should also consider the possibilities and means for personnel development through education and training programmes, optimum institutional arrangements for nuclear safety research, and means for stakeholder involvement.

A new entrant should commit that any application of nuclear technology will be used for peaceful purposes only and the government should sign all legally binding and non-binding international instruments in that regard. The IAEA has programmes to assist Member States in developing a solid legal foundation for their programmes and the new entrants are advised to take full advantage of these services. Slide1

1.2                Phase 2: Safety Infrastructure Preparatory Work for Construction of a Nuclear Power Plant after a Policy Decision has been:

Once the country has decided to embark on the introduction or expansion of nuclear power, the basic legislation has been enacted, and the regulatory body created, focused actions are needed to build the national safety infrastructure. The prospective licensee will become the key actor in the development efforts. Principle 1 of the Fundamental Safety Principles, addressing the licensee’s primary responsibility for safety, should be clearly understood by all parties. The licensee may be a public or private organization or consortia of both and perhaps might include foreign enterprises. The licensee must be fully aware of its primary responsibility for safety. In this connection, regulations need to be in place specifying the extent to which the licensee should bear liability in the event of an accident. Nuclear legislation should be in place to cover such liability, which in some cases might affect neighbouring countries. The new entrant country should become a Party to the Vienna or Paris Conventions and their amendments.

The development of the work processes, human resources and competences of the independent regulatory body is a high priority task in phase 2 and should continue also through phase 3.  The safety regulations promulgated by the regulatory body may be derived from the IAEA safety standards, similar regulations in other countries, or from the rules of the supplier country of the technology, if identified.Slide21. 3                  Phase 3: Safety Infrastructure during Implementation of the First Nuclear Power Plant:

Implementation includes site selection and characterization, the tendering process with clear definition of roles and responsibilities of each implementing organization, design, and plant construction. The plant owner must have the competence to develop an application based on the regulatory requirements defined in the earlier phases. The regulatory body must also have the competence to evaluate and rule on the application. The main initial concern will be to verify that the safety of the proposed plant is compatible with the site characteristics regarding population distribution, external natural hazards (extreme meteorological, seismological, and hydrological events), human induced events, and the suitability of a final heat sink. Detailed requirements and guides for site evaluation, design and construction are available in the IAEA Safety Standards Series.

Although there are a variety of ways to approach licensing, it is anticipated that in all cases the plant owner will have to request a construction authorization. Such a request should be supported by an application with the content specified by the regulator. It is generally accepted that a preliminary safety analysis report is one of the key documents. The plant owner should have the necessary expertise to prepare and understand the supporting documentation, while the regulatory body needs to have the capacity to verify the safety of the proposed plant and its appropriateness for the site. At this time, and throughout the construction phase, there should be a close working relationship between the applicant and the regulatory body in order to ensure the necessary flow of information, but without jeopardizing effective regulatory independence. The plant vendor should support the plant owner in supplying the requested information. But it is recommended that the plant vendor should not have a direct relationship with the regulatory body that is separate from the owner; the owner’s responsibility for safety should be reinforced by the licensing and regulatory process.Slide3Slide4

1.4                   Phase 4: Safety Infrastructure during the Operation Phase of a Nuclear Power Plant:

The operation phase can be divided into two distinct periods: commissioning and commercial power operation. Commissioning is a short but very intense period, typically encompassing one–two years in the life of a nuclear power plant. The licensee’s management of safety during design and construction has to adjust to accommodate the different obligations that arise in the commissioning and operations stage in the life of the plant. Radiation risks will arise for the first time during commissioning and radioactive waste will be generated. As a result, the emergency preparedness programme should be in place before commissioning begins. Experience shows that the commercial operation phase of present nuclear power plants could last 60 years or more. (The operating life of the new designs is likely to be an element defined by the reactor vendor in the bidding process, and will be adjusted based on economics, safety, and plant performance during operation.) During operation, it is of crucial importance that the safety infrastructure developed during the previous phases continues to be strengthened, safety culture fully implemented, and knowledge and experience maintained, improved and shared. Safety during operation is addressed in the IAEA Safety Standards Series.

During commissioning, the operating organization has to accept full responsibility for safety and the plant vendor has to transfer a safe plant to the operating organization. It is recommended that a nuclear safety office or senior advisory group be established to evaluate safety issues that is independent of the plant manager and that has direct access to the top management of the licensee organization.

All of the activities in this phase are subject to surveillance by the regulatory body, which is also responsible for granting authorization for the commissioning activities and operation. The licensee will have to request such an authorization. The request should be supported by a complete set of safety documents, typically including a final safety analysis report, the technical specifications for operation, the radiation protection manual, the emergency plan, and emergency and routine operating procedures, the quality assurance programme for operation and the surveillance test programme. Knowledge and expertise to prepare and to analyze such documents must be available to the plant licensee and to the regulatory body. For new entrants, the “reference plant” approach will likely be valuable in facilitating the preparation of such documents.

Radiation protection is considered to be optimized when that protection provides the highest level of safety that can reasonably be achieved throughout the lifetime of the plant without unduly limiting its use. The concept of ALARA — as low as reasonably achievable — provides the means to implement the optimization principle. The implementation of ALARA should start with commissioning and continue throughout operation and decommissioning.  It is recommended that there be a person responsible for radiation protection who is independent of operations and who reports directly to the plant manager or to a higher level within the operating organization. The main responsibility of such management should be to make sure that the ALARA concept is properly applied, sustained and improved. The regulatory body will be responsible for overseeing ALARA activities in the plant.

A robust emergency preparedness programme should be initiated in phase 1, but fully implemented during the commissioning phase and considerably improved and exercised periodically during operation on emergency preparedness and response). Such preparedness is the last level of defence in the defence in depth concept. Emergency preparedness involves local, regional, national and international authorities and, in particular, may be of significant importance to contiguous States. Thus, the basic responsibilities and procedures for emergency preparedness should be part of the basic legislation of the country. Emergency preparedness and response are fully considered in the IAEA Safety Standards Series.Slide5Slide61.5       Phase 5: Safety Infrastructure during Decommissioning and Waste Management Phases of a Nuclear Power Plant:

The operation of a nuclear power plant may end because the facility has reached the end of its licence, an accident has occurred there or elsewhere, the operation is no longer economical, or perhaps for other reasons. After the final decision is taken to end the operation of the plant, there will be sufficient time (of the order of a few years) before actual decommissioning work will start. It is necessary to take the eventual future decommissioning into account from the very beginning of the project so that responsibilities are clearly identified. As long as nuclear fuel is on the premises, safety requirements must be followed and the necessary operating personnel must be kept in place to avoid critical accidents and to ensure cooling of the spent fuel and retention of radioactivity.  In some countries, when the spent fuel and the radioactive waste have been removed from the plant site, there is a transfer of responsibility from the plant owner to the national or private dismantling and radioactive waste management organization.Slide72.      MAJOR RESPONSIBILITIES OF STAKEHOLDERS: Slide8

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The introduction of nuclear power in any country requires the early establishment of a long term nuclear safety infrastructure. This is to ensure that the siting, design, construction, commissioning, operation and dismantling of any nuclear power plant and any other related installation, as well as the long term management of radioactive waste and spent fuel, are conducted in a safe and secure manner. The IAEA Fundamental Safety Principles provide a sound basis for a sustainable high level of nuclear safety within the Global Nuclear Safety Regime. INSAG publications could also be of help in this endeavor.

The continued operation or expansion of existing nuclear power programmes needs attention to ensure that nuclear safety infrastructure elements are established, reviewed, maintained and upgraded in accordance with the IAEA Fundamental Safety Principles and the Global Nuclear Safety Regime.

The development and implementation of a nuclear safety infrastructure should progress through the five phases in the lifetime of a nuclear power plant described in this report. At the end of the pre-decision and decision making phases, nuclear legislation should have been conceived, developed or enacted, the licensing and regulatory system should be in development or established, a competent regulatory body should be formed and be functioning, and the electric utilities and the regulatory body should have begun to develop technical competence for siting, design, procurement and construction.

At the end of the commissioning phase, the nuclear safety infrastructure for operation should be fully operative. During operation, training of operation and maintenance personnel should be carried out fully, as well as training for safety oversight within the regulatory body. Expertise on nuclear safety should be enhanced through the analysis of operating experience and by participating in international confirmatory safety related research.

Implementation of emergency preparedness, radiation protection and radioactive waste management principles should be functional as soon as radiation risks emerge during the commissioning phase and be perfected during the entire life of the plant. Plant decommissioning, site restoration and long term radioactive waste management should be taken into account and should not produce unacceptable radiation risks to present and future generations.

Countries can take advantage of the experience already gained by other countries by becoming members of the various international instruments and conventions, such as the Convention on Nuclear Safety. In addition, countries are strongly encouraged to use the IAEA Safety Standards for the various activities related to the introduction or expansion of a nuclear power programme in the country and take full advantage of the benefits and associated responsibilities of the Global Nuclear Safety Regime. These actions will help in ensuring a high level of safety in accordance with the Fundamental Safety Principles.


  1. Nuclear Safety Review for the Year 2010;
  2. Nuclear Safety Review for the Year 2012;
  3. IAEA Nuclear Safety Infrastructure for National Nuclear Power Programme; and
  4. IAEA Nuclear Technology Review for 2012.

Chapter 47