Argentina regulator’s commitment to nuclear safety praised by IAEA

15 September 2022

A 13-day International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) mission to Argentina concluded that the Nuclear Regulatory Authority (ARN) "demonstrated a long-standing commitment to enhancing and promoting nuclear safety", and also recommended areas for improvements.

The Atucha plant site (Image: Nucleoelectrica Argentina)

Argentina has three nuclear power plants in operation - Atucha I and Atucha II and Embalse. Together they generate up to 10% of the country’s electricity. A prototype small modular reactor, the CAREM 25, is also being built. It also has research reactors and fuel cycle facilities.

The Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) team was made up of 19 experts from Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Cuba, France, Germany, Hungary, India, the Netherlands, Pakistan, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, the UK and the USA. There were also four IAEA staff members and two observers.

IRRS missions are aimed at strengthening the effectiveness of a country’s nuclear and radiation safety regulatory infrastructure. This mission also included the regulatory implications of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition to meetings and reviewing documents, the missions visited the Embalse plant, a fuel cycle facility, a research reactor, laboratories, a radiotherapy facility and a radioactive waste management facility at the Atucha site.

Areas of good performance, the IRRS team said, included ARN’s capability to make its regulatory decisions based on measurements and radiological safety evaluations carried out in its own laboratories, and recognised "the excellent preparatory work done by Argentina, including the identification of a number of findings during its self-assessment that were later confirmed by the IRRS mission".

The mission "recognised that ARN has been successfully implementing a comprehensive education and training programme in radiation and nuclear safety for more than 40 years for countries in the region".

The main challenges identified for ARN "is to revise or develop several regulatory regulations and guides, which can be a lengthy process". 

Other recommendations include establishing a fiduciary fund for decommissioning activities, radioactive waste and used fuel management; establishment of a process to review and revise standards and guides to keep them up to date; further strengthening of the formalisation of the national plan for response against nuclear and radiological emergencies.

Javier Zarzuela, technical director at Spain's Nuclear Safety Council (CSN) and the IRRS team leader, said: "The review has permitted the team to develop a broad understanding of the governmental, legal and regulatory framework, resulting in recommendations and suggestions that should benefit nuclear and radiation safety in Argentina. By inviting this international full scope peer review, Argentina shows openness, transparency and commitment to continuous improvement."

Agustín Arbor González, President of the Board of Directors of ARN, said: "Argentina has a long-standing commitment to nuclear safety. Having completed a self-assessment prior to this mission, we are satisfied that, overall, our regulatory system, which is predominantly based on performance criteria, complies with IAEA safety standards. There are some topics that need further work, and we are committed to making improvements."

The final mission report will be provided to the government in about three months.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News