IAEA team reviews Chinese regulatory system

02 August 2010

A team of experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has completed a two-week peer review of China's governmental and regulatory framework for nuclear safety. The team concluded that the country's safety authorities will need more funds and staff to keep pace with its rapidly expanding nuclear industry. 


The review, carried out at the request of Chinese authorities, was conducted by a 22-strong team of experts from 15 different countries between 18 and 30 July. The team conducted an Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) mission, a peer review based on the IAEA safety standards. The IAEA stressed that the IRRS is not an inspection, nor an audit.


The scope of the mission included the regulation of nuclear and radiation safety of the facilities and activities regulated by the Ministry of Environmental Protection's (MEP's) National Nuclear Safety Administration (NNSA). To observe Chinese regulatory activities, the IRRS team visited several nuclear facilities, including a nuclear power plant, a manufacturer of safety components for nuclear power plants, a research reactor, a fuel cycle facility, a waste management facility, industrial and medical radioactive sources and the nuclear and radiation accident emergency centre.


The IRRS team reviewed the following regulatory areas: the government's responsibilities and functions in the nuclear safety regime; the responsibilities and functions of the regulatory body and its management system; the activities of the regulatory body including authorizations; review and assessment; inspection and enforcement processes; and the development of regulations and guides.


The IAEA team identified good practices within China's regulatory system. It said that leadership expressed high-level commitment to nuclear safety and its regulation, and the cultural environment that exists turns such commitments into practical activities. The team also noted the extensive use of IAEA safety standards in the development of China's legislative framework. It also said that China had in place a system "for registering a cadre of high level nuclear safety engineers."


In a statement, the IAEA said that the review had provided "confidence in the effectiveness of the Chinese safety regulatory system and the future safety of the vast expanding nuclear industry."



Armenian site inspection 


Another team from the IAEA is set to begin an inspection of the existing Metsamor nuclear power plant in Armenia, where a new reactor is planned, the RIA Novosti news agency reported. 


The chairman of the state committee on nuclear safety, Ashot Martirosyan, said the team will study the results of geological, seismological and other surveys conducted at the site since 2009. 


Construction of a 1000 MW reactor is planned to be begin at Metsamor in 2011, with operation scheduled to begin by 2017. 


Two Russian-designed reactors at Metsamor were shut down in 1989 due to safety concerns regarding seismic vulnerability following a powerful earthquake the previous year. In 1993, it was decided to restart the second unit due to the severe economic crisis and this was achieved in 1995. Since then, the IAEA has been participating in safety improvements at the plant, which is now scheduled to close in 2016. 


However, the team made a number of recommendations to improve the overall performance of China's regulatory system. It said that nuclear safety-related legislation and policies should be further enhanced for all nuclear activities, including radioactive waste management. In addition, regulatory bodies should be provided with greater flexibility and resources, both financial and human, to keep pace with China’s nuclear development programme.


The IAEA said that it had conveyed the team's main conclusions to the Chinese government. The final report will be submitted to China later this year.


Gustavo Caruso, the IAEA's IRRS coordinator, said: "This mission was a big challenge for the Agency because of the significant expansion of China’s nuclear programme in the context of the nation's current regulatory activities."


IAEA deputy director general Tomihiro Taniguchi commented: "I witnessed myself the very intensive work of the team and correspondingly commitment of the Chinese government to achieve a high level of safety against a background of massive expansion of the nuclear energy programme."


There are currently 12 nuclear power reactors in operation in mainland China with a combined capacity of some 9624 MWe. A further 23 units are under construction and more set to start construction soon. The country plans to increase its nuclear generating capacity to 80 GWe by 2020, 200 GWe by 2030, and to 400 GWe by 2050.


Researched and written 

by World Nuclear News