UK regulator develops approach to 'rapid change'

16 May 2019

The nuclear industry, both in the UK and internationally, is "changing rapidly and is facing significant challenges", the UK's Office for Nuclear Regulation says in its Strategic Framework for International Engagement to 2025. The report, published on 14 May, is therefore a "living document" that will be reviewed annually "to reflect the evolving international and political context and its changing priorities", it says.

Operating environment

Following the UK's exit from the European Union and Euratom, the government has proposed a new civil nuclear relationship based on a comprehensive Nuclear Cooperation Agreement (NCA) between Euratom and the UK. This is to help ensure the UK's standing as a leading and responsible civil nuclear state is maintained and is expected to include a cooperation mechanism between ONR, as the UK safeguards regulator and State System of Accountancy and Control of Nuclear Materials (SSAC), and Euratom. In addition to a formal NCA, leaving the EU will result in different relationships for ONR, the report says.

ONR (as the SSAC) will be responsible for meeting the UK's international safeguards obligations. Doing this will require increased engagement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on the implementation of the UK’s safeguards treaty agreements with the IAEA and with NCA partners in meeting the safeguards related requirements of those treaty agreements, it says.

The Nuclear Sector Deal (NSD), agreed between government and industry, seeks to promote positive aspects of an energy mix that features nuclear power and includes as key themes: goals on the cost reduction of new build in the UK and regulatory innovation. ONR's goal-setting regulatory regime offers flexibility to support innovation within the UK nuclear industry - evident through its work with Advanced Nuclear Technologies (ANTs) and influencing hazard and risk reduction at Sellafield. Strengthening ONR's role in multilateral international fora and bilateral partnerships will be a key enabler, it says, in influencing the safety and security of technological developments in the industry and in learning from others.

The Deregulation Act 2015 confirmed the economic growth duty on non-economic regulators and NERA Economic Consulting were commissioned to examine the economic impact of civil nuclear safety regulation.

"NERA recommended that ONR undertake systematic and quantitative international comparisons of factors such as regulatory costs and standards as applied in practice. ONR has committed to investigating opportunities to collaborate, through multilateral relationships, to help demonstrate how ONR's economic impact in specific types of regulation compares with its international counterparts," it says.

The UK government remains committed to geological disposal and international collaboration in the development of regulations and standards for geological waste emplacement, the report says, which will be an ongoing technical focus for ONR.

International footprint

ONR said its priority engagements include supporting a significant portfolio of international work with key bodies including the IAEA, OECD Nuclear Energy Agency, and other influential standard setting bodies including the Western European Nuclear Regulators Association (WENRA).

"This enables us to influence globally, learn from relevant international good practice and maintain alignment with international obligations, standards and conventions, which ensures their output takes account of UK practice/law and meets the UK’s needs," it said.

The report also includes ONR’s work with the Multinational Design Evaluation Programme, the Small Modular Reactor (SMR) Regulators' Forum, the European Nuclear Security Regulators Association and the World Institute for Nuclear Security. In support of its core regulatory purposes, ONR says it works with regulatory bodies in EU and non-EU states to co-ordinate positions and engagement. This allows for the exchange of regulatory and technical information, experience and expertise on nuclear safety and security. This includes formal agreements such as NCAs and Information Exchange Arrangements.

ONR also provides UK presentations at key fora on security and safeguards, including IAEA General Conference Senior Regulators Meeting, Nuclear Security Guidance Committee, IAEA Nuclear Security Conferences, WINS events, European Nuclear Security Regulators Association and the International Regulators Conference on Nuclear Security.

Engagement categories

The Framework sets the strategic direction for ONR's international engagement, providing structured governance of its international engagements, planning and reporting arrangements. Its International Steering Group will provide the appropriate mechanism for corporate oversight and governance of the framework to ensure alignment across ONR’s international activities.

To introduce consistency and proportionality across ONR in terms of business justification, all ONR’s international activities will be allocated to an 'engagement category'.

Category A covers agreed priority engagements that support and fulfil international treaty and convention obligations or directly influence development of international standards and guidance; Category B relates to agreed priority engagements judged to demonstrably support and align to at least one of ONR's strategic themes; and Category C concerns agreed international engagements undertaken to maintain visibility, provide knowledge transfer, secure professional development or necessary to support routine regulatory business and specific to a Directorate.

Its bilateral partnerships with international regulatory bodies will vary according to how each relationship aligns with its regulatory and organisational priorities with the broad characteristics.

Bilateral cooperation is governed and supported by Information Exchange Arrangements agreed between ONR and counterpart organisations and approved by the UK government Legal Advisory Service and counterpart national ministries. Such agreements are not legally binding but establish the parameters, pre-requisites and boundaries for information exchange.

The IAEA's Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) conducts reviews of national regulators’ policies and practices against IAEA standards. In addition to being reviewed by the IRRS, ONR provides experts to take part in IRRS missions of other countries. Similarly, the UK hosts and contributes experts to missions by the International Physical Protection Advisory Service concerning practices and arrangements for nuclear security.

ONR also provides support to IAEA consultancies (including associated technical meetings and workshops) with specific priority on the development of nuclear safety standards and nuclear security series (including aspects of the IAEA’s nuclear safeguard regime). It also seeks to provide support for IAEA-led missions supporting aspiring nuclear nations.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News