Chinese regulatory system must keep up with growth, says IAEA

08 September 2016

China's regulatory framework for nuclear and radiation safety is effective but will need to keep pace with the country's nuclear energy program, an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) peer review mission has concluded.

IRRS mission to China - September 2016 - 460 (IAEA)
Members of the IAEA-led mission and NNSA staff visit the Fuqing plant (Image: IAEA)

The ten-day review - carried out at the request of Chinese authorities - was conducted by a 14-strong team of experts and concluded today. The team conducted an Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) mission, a peer review based on the IAEA safety standards. The review followed an initial mission in 2010.

As part of the mission, the team reviewed laws, regulations, guidelines and other documents. It also held discussions with counterparts from the Ministry of Environmental Protection's (MEP's) National Nuclear Safety Administration (NNSA), as well as with senior management and staff at the entities it regulates.

The trip included a visit to the Fuqing nuclear power plant in China's Fujian province, where they toured units 1 and 2 - both in operation - as well as the construction site of unit 5, the first of two demonstration indigenously-designed Hualong One reactors being built there. They also visited a radiation technology company and China's Nuclear and Radiation Accident Emergency Technical Centre.

The IRRS team provided a preliminary report of its findings, together with recommendations and suggestions to the ministry, NNSA and the government.

The team said it found most of the recommendations made during the 2010 mission had been implemented but that "further work is needed in areas such as managing long-term operation of nuclear power plants and waste management".

In a statement, the IAEA said, "The team recommended that China should continue its progress towards adopting the draft Nuclear Safety Act, which sets out fundamental safety principles. The team emphasised the Act should ensure the independence of MEP/NNSA as a regulatory body that is separate from other entities with responsibilities or interests that could unduly influence its decision-making. It also said national policy and strategy to manage radioactive waste should reflect the planned expansion of nuclear power."

The review team also recommended the ministry and NNSA expand requirements for operators to ensure financial provisions for decommissioning so that they include facilities other than nuclear power plants and fuel cycle facilities. It said they should also create guidelines for applications to extend the operating period of nuclear power plants and establish a process for reviewing such applications.

IAEA team leader Ramzi Jammal - executive vice-president and chief regulatory operations officer at the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission - said: "China's plan for unparalleled expansion of the use of nuclear power poses a challenge for the regulatory body, which will have to invest effort and resources to ensure that it has the capacity to effectively regulate nuclear and radiation safety."

He added, "We found that significant progress has been made in developing the regulatory framework in the six years since the last review. Due to the dynamic character of China's nuclear power program, we recommend that the next full-scope review takes place within a ten-year period of the initial mission."

The mission's final report will be submitted to the Chinese government in about three months.

Li Ganjie, China's vice minister of environmental protection and administrator of the NNSA, said: "The Chinese government attaches great importance to nuclear and radiation safety regulation, and adopts the fundamental principle of making safety and quality the top priority in all nuclear-related activities. Nuclear and radiation safety regulation in China is of sufficient openness and transparency, fully in line with international practice."

"Since 2010, with careful consideration of the recommendations and suggestions made by the IAEA review team, and incorporating lessons learned from the Fukushima nuclear accident, the Chinese government has brought its nuclear and radiation safety regulation up to a new level," he said. "We will now continue this work."

There are currently 35 nuclear power reactors in operation in mainland China with a combined capacity of 31,617 MWe. A further 20 units are under construction. The country plans to have around 90 reactors in operation or under construction by 2020, with nuclear energy supplying about 4% of its electricity by then.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News