IAEA sees improved regulation in Bulgaria

19 April 2016

Bulgaria's nuclear safety regulatory system has improved significantly in recent years but its high staff turnover remains a concern, an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) peer review mission has concluded.

The IAEA Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) team, led by Marta Ziakova of the Slovak Nuclear Regulatory Authority, yesterday concluded a seven-day mission to Bulgaria. The team were making a follow-up mission to assess the regulatory framework for nuclear and radiation safety in Bulgaria, reviewing developments since a previous mission in 2013.

The review was carried out at the invitation of the Bulgarian government by a nine-member team comprising experts from the nuclear regulatory bodies of Germany, Greece, Norway, Pakistan, Slovakia and Slovenia as well as three IAEA experts.

"The Bulgarian Nuclear Regulatory Agency (BNRA) followed up on the earlier mission with a comprehensive action plan that led to significant progress in all areas," Ziakova said whilst presenting the team's preliminary findings. "Among improvements are a clearer division of responsibilities between BNRA and the Ministry of Health."

This improved division of responsibilities as well as strengthened coordination and cooperation between BNRA and the Ministry of Health has "reduced the risk of duplication or gaps in regulatory work", the team said.

The IRRS team also found that BNRA has strengthened its inspection process, upgraded its management system and substantially improved emergency planning arrangements, including by establishing systematic emergency training.

However, Ziakova said the team noted "that more work is needed in some areas, such as staff retention". The IAEA-led team suggested the BNRA should continue negotiations with relevant authorities "for sufficient financial resources that would allow for competitive salaries".

The mission also suggested the Ministry of Health should consider developing a systematic program to ensure that all areas it regulates are covered by inspections within a given period.

BNRA chairman Latchesar Kostov said, "The IRRS follow-up mission was beneficial and effective in assisting a continuous improvement of the Bulgarian regulatory infrastructure."

The IRRS team will present its final mission report to the Bulgarian government in about three months.

The IAEA offers the IRRS as a peer review service to strengthen and enhance the effectiveness of national nuclear regulatory infrastructures whilst recognizing the ultimate responsibility of each state to ensure safety in these areas. An IRRS mission is preceded by a pre-mission phase including a self-assessment by the regulator under review. A follow-up mission allows the host country and IRRS review team to assess progress in implementing any recommendations and suggestions, as well as providing an opportunity to identify additional technical and policy issues for review, to identify further good practices and provide input for the review of IAEA safety standards.

Bulgaria has six nuclear power reactors at its Kozloduy site, of which two are in operation and four are being decommissioned. Nuclear energy contributed almost one-third of the country's electricity production last year. Bulgaria also has used fuel storage sites and radioactive waste facilities, as well as numerous users of radioactive sources in the industrial, research and medical fields.

The BNRA was established under the Safe Uses of Nuclear Energy Act 2002 and took over the functions of its predecessor, the Committee on the Safe Use of Atomic Energy for Peaceful Purposes, originally set up under a 1985 Act. The NRA is responsible for both regulation of nuclear installations in relation to safety and radiation protection, and also the management of radioactive wastes. The Ministry of Health is also involved with radiation protection, and determines relevant standards.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News