IAEA: Reactors are maintaining safe operation during pandemic

11 June 2020

There has been no enforced shutdown of a nuclear power reactor due to the effects of COVID-19 on the workforce or supply chains, according to reports from operators and regulators received through the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA's) COVID-19 Operational Experience Network (OPEX) and International Reporting System for Operating Experience (IRS).

Nuclear power plants are taking various measures to continue safe operations during the COVID-19 pandemic, including social distancing (Image: Rosenergoatom)

Operators and regulators continue to ensure safety and security at plants worldwide even as the pandemic has impacted them in various ways, including their planned outages and maintenance schedules, said Dohee Hahn, director of the IAEA's Division of Nuclear Power. "The input we are receiving provides us with important insight into the pandemic's impact on the nuclear industry and will help operators and regulators alike to learn from each other's experiences," he said.

While operators have taken measures to reduce the risk of infection among employees and maintain day-to-day operations, lower electricity demand caused by restrictions on economic activity has led to some plants having to reduce power output. Adjustments to activities such as scheduled maintenance outages have also had to be made, by deferring non-critical work, commensurate with the availability of staff while observing distancing practices.

"Plant operators are responding to an evolving and unprecedented situation by showing a high level of preparedness, flexibility and resilience," Hahn said.

The pandemic's widespread impact on the global economy and industrial activity is expected to continue to challenge global supply chains. That impact could affect plant performance in the interim to long term, introducing long lead times for new builds or major refurbishment projects, the IAEA said. There may also be potential delays in tendering processes, as well as uncertainty over available financing for new build projects. The has also received information related to contingency planning should staffing levels be further reduced, as well as descriptions of actions taken when active COVID-19 cases were detected among employees or their family members.

"A pandemic, such as the current COVID-19 outbreak, could pose a challenge to the continuity of safe operations of nuclear power plants and therefore operators need to implement special measures that integrate safety into their business activities and priorities under pandemic circumstances," said Greg Rzentkowski, director of the IAEA's Nuclear Installation Safety Division. The objective of those measures is that safety is not compromised during these unprecedented times, he added.

The IAEA has been coordinating with other international organisations - including the World Association of Nuclear Operators and the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency - to compare data on nuclear power and energy market trends amid the pandemic in order to help the industry deal with this unprecedented situation and any similar outbreaks in future. The OPEX and IRS platforms, it said, will remain open for further input for the duration of the pandemic.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News