Strategic Management of New and Expanding Nuclear Power Programmes Discussed at Annual Meeting
Challenges that countries face when introducing or expanding a nuclear power programme were discussed at an IAEA meeting in Vienna last week. Among them are developing a regulatory and legal framework, establishing an effective owner/operator organization, involving all stakeholders to build public confidence in nuclear power, and training a well-qualified workforce.
The annual Technical Meeting on Topical Issues in the Development of Nuclear Power Infrastructure, held from 31 January to 2 February 2018, attracted some 100 representatives from both embarking and operating countries and international organizations. Senior officials from national government organizations, regulatory bodies and owner/operator organizations presented updates on their activities, shared good practices and lessons learned as they embark on, or consider introducing or expanding nuclear power.
In 2017, we saw considerable progress in the area of nuclear power programme development, said Milko Kovachev, Head of the IAEA Nuclear Infrastructure Development Section. Two countries new to nuclear power, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Belarus, are about to complete constructing their first nuclear power plants. The UAE will be the first newcomer country to start commissioning in years. He added that a key for success is that the relevant nuclear infrastructure is developed at the same the pace as the nuclear power plant project.
At the same time, Bangladesh began constructing its first unit in November 2017. Turkey is expected to start construction of its first plant soon, subject to regulatory approval. Egypt has signed contracts for its first nuclear power plant, while other newcomer countries are at different stages of making preparatory steps for their nuclear power programme.
There were also significant developments in operating countries expanding their programmes last year. We expect that advanced, first-of-a-kind designs are scheduled to be commissioned in a number of countries this year, such as the AP1000 in China and the EPR1600 in China and France, Kovachev pointed out. Both designs are advanced pressurized water reactors.
Participants discussed a number of key areas that are also part of the IAEA Milestones Approach, a three-phase process for developing the necessary infrastructure for a safe, secure and sustainable nuclear power programme.
Involving different groups of stakeholders at various stages of programme development is a crucial aspect in successful programme implementation, participants heard. IAEA Member States are using a combination of common tools and approaches to meet stakeholder needs, including social media, and aim at creating positive and open relationships with local communities. The IAEA offers a wide range of guidance materials and training activities for national experts and policymakers and is developing new services including a training course in stakeholder involvement.
Modelling human resource needs plays an important role in preparing plans for adequate staffing of national organizations at different stages of programme development, participants agreed. The IAEA offers a nuclear power human resource model and has already trained many national experts in its application.
The owner/operator organization for the nuclear power plant project needs to be planned from the very beginning and established during the project development phase (Phase 2 of the IAEA Milestones Approach), participants heard. They agreed that the owner/operator organization must be a ‘knowledgeable customer’ with sufficient capabilities to hire services from contractors and oversee them.
Building capabilities for regulatory oversight must start early on, during the project development phase, to be expanded during the construction phase. A sufficient number of qualified staff is crucial for national regulators to perform their functions effectively. The IAEA offers support and guidance in this area. Having a transparent, open and trusted regulatory body is one of the most important aspects of a nuclear power programme, stressed Stewart Magruder of the Regulatory Activities Section, IAEA Division of Nuclear Installation Safety.
Several countries are considering small modular reactor technology for their nuclear power programmes. These advanced reactors that produce electricity up to 300 MW(e) per module are better suited for smaller electricity grids and for remote or isolated locations. Also, they have shorter construction times and may require less initial investment. However, participants also recognized that, for example, licensing would include first-of-a-kind features, the regulatory processes would be complex and although there are about 50 small and medium-sized or modular reactor designs and concepts, three of which are in advanced stages of construction, they are lacking operating experience. The IAEA offers a forum for exchange of the most recent research and development results in this technology.
The IAEA continues to provide support to newcomer and expanding countries through a wide range of guidance, services and review missions. Participants learned that an Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review (INIR) mission for countries being close to completing construction of their nuclear power plant (Phase 3 of the Milestones Approach) has been developed. The UAE and Belarus will be the first countries to benefit from this new service.
Representatives from many countries highlighted their cooperation with the IAEA and emphasized the importance of INIR missions. The pathway for us to move forward has become much clearer after an INIR mission in 2017, said Nii Kwashi Allotey, Director of the Nuclear Power Institute in Ghana. We are now working on the mission’s recommendation and have a better understanding of where we need to commit more resources. To date, the IAEA has conducted 22 INIR missions in 16 countries.
In closing the meeting, Mikhail Chudakov, Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Nuclear Energy, emphasized the importance of strong government commitment to nuclear power and of developing a skilled national workforce: Countries are responsible for the safety of their nuclear power plants, so it is important to have competent staff and regulatory bodies and make suitable arrangements with vendors to help in this matter, he called on the meeting participants.
Challenges related to the implementation of nuclear power programmes were also discussed at the highest level at the International Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Power in the 21st century in Abu Dhabi last year. The Conference’s President concluded that nuclear power is a proven, clean, safe and economical energy source for many countries and will have an important role to play in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals and meeting the targets of the Paris Agreement.
Source: International Atomic Energy Agency