IAEA team completes review of Australian regulator

20 November 2018

The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) is committed to strengthening its regulatory framework for nuclear and radiation safety, a mission from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has concluded, noting areas for further enhancements.

The 20-member team completed a 12-day Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) mission on 16 November to assess the regulatory framework for nuclear and radiation safety in Australia. The mission was hosted by the government and the ARPANSA.

IRRS missions are designed to strengthen the effectiveness of the national radiation safety regulatory infrastructure, while recognising the responsibility of each member state to ensure nuclear and radiation safety. The missions compare regulatory technical and policy issues with IAEA safety standards and, where appropriate, good practices elsewhere. The regulatory review process also draws directly upon the wide-ranging international experience and expertise of the regulatory review team members. The review results in a report that identifies good practices and provides recommendations and suggestions for improvement.

Under Australia's federal system of government, ARPANSA regulates Commonwealth entities and other entities are regulated within the six states and two territories. The majority of licensed activities in Australia are carried out within states and territories. This was the third IRRS mission to Australia since 2007 and the first to include all nine jurisdictions.

The IRRS mission met with all nine radiation safety regulators: ARPANSA for the Commonwealth of Australia, Queensland Health, the New South Wales Environment Protection Authority, Victoria's Department of Health and Human Services, South Australia's Environment Protection Authority, Tasmania's Department of Health, Western Australia's Radiological Council, the Northern Territory's Department of Health, and the Australian Capital Territory's Health Protection Service.

The IAEA said it was the first such IRRS mission and is a model that other federal countries may want to consider. It also noted ongoing activities to address consistency in Australia's radiation safety programmes, but said "further efforts were warranted in several areas".

The IRRS review covered, for example: responsibilities and functions of the government and of the regulatory body; the global safety regime; activities of the regulatory body including authorisation, review and assessment, inspection and enforcement processes; development and content of regulations and guides; emergency preparedness and response; occupational radiation protection; patient protection; discharges and material clearance; transport; waste management; decommissioning and interface of safety with nuclear security.

In its preliminary report, the team identified good practices, including that ARPANSA, together with state and territory regulatory bodies, has established comprehensive guidance that addresses existing exposure situations. It also said ARPANSA integrates all types of risks in the management processes, the regulatory activities, and day-to-day work activities in a "holistic and comprehensive way".

The team made a number of recommendations and suggestions for further enhancements. These included that all relevant authorities should consider formalising the existing elements of the framework for safety into comprehensive national policy and strategy for safety. It also recommended the federal government make a firm commitment and take actions with specific milestones to address decommissioning of facilities and radioactive waste management. The team also said the governments of all jurisdictions should ensure that all parties responsible for the safety of facilities and regulatory activities have the necessary capabilities and human resources to carry out their responsibilities. ARPANSA, the team said, should establish criteria to evaluate the effectiveness of licensees' emergency exercises and assign roles and responsibilities for its staff during emergency situations.

Mission team leader Petteri Tiippana, director general of Finland's Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority, said: "Australia has demonstrated a strong commitment to continuous improvement in nuclear and radiation safety and in regulatory oversight of such facilities and activities, We are confident that Australia will take further steps, assuring a consistent level of safety and protection of people and the environment across the country."

The IAEA team will provide the Australian government with its final mission report in about three months.

ARPANSA CEO Carl-Magnus Larsson said, "The IRRS has enabled us to have a frank and open exchange and discuss the strengths of the system as well as the barriers in implementing uniform radiation protection regulation. I am looking forward to working with our state and territory counterparts to bring the IRRS recommendations into fruition."

Australia uses radiation sources in medical and industrial applications, as well as in science and research, including at The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation's research reactor at Lucas Heights, Sydney. The country has storage facilities for low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste, and plans to establish a national radioactive waste management facility.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News