South Africa's nuclear regulatory framework is robust, but improvements are needed in the country's regulation of the use of radiation sources, an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) review mission has found.
The IAEA's Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) team announced its conclusions today at the end of an 11-day mission to assess South Africa's regulatory framework for nuclear and radiation safety. The country's regulatory responsibilities are shared by the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR), responsible for regulating the operation of nuclear facilities and fuel cycle facilities, and the Department of Health's (DOH) Directorate of Radiation Control (RadCon), which regulates the use of radiation sources in medicine and industry.
A team of 27 experts from 19 countries, as well as IAEA staff members, reviewed documents and held discussions with officials from both regulators as well as the South African Department of Energy. They also visited the Koeberg nuclear power plant, South Africa's Safari-1 research reactor, a hospital, uranium mine, fuel cycle facilities and waste management facilities, as well as NNR's emergency response centre and environmental monitoring laboratory.
IRRS team leader Victor McCree said NNR was an effective regulatory authority with competent staff, a strong safety culture and solid infrastructure. RadCon lacked sufficient financial resources and staff to fully maintain its regulatory function, he noted. He called for the acceleration of a government initiative to integrate the regulatory responsibilities of NNR and RadCon into a single authority.
Strengths and recommendations
Preliminary findings from the mission identified several strengths at NNR. These included clearly assigned roles and responsibilities; an initiative to promote and enhance safety and security culture; and thorough inspections of all nuclear waste transports. The IRRS team also recognised NNR's ongoing efforts to update the regulatory framework.
The team identified areas of good practice, including NNR's scholarship and internship program and its requirement of the operator of the country's research reactor to develop a detailed ageing management program for the facility.
The team provided recommendations and suggestions for improvements to the South African government as well as to the regulators. These included recommendations to the government to ensure the effective independence of the regulatory authorities by allocating them adequate resources and ensuring that their judgements could be made without undue influence; develop a legal framework addressing safety and security including arrangements for the safety and security of radioactive sources; and the establishment of a policy for decommissioning facilities and a process to develop waste management plans.
It said the regulators should work to develop and maintain regulations and guides consistent with international standards; systematically plan and prioritize inspections; and provide clear regulatory guidance for licensees on when to declare an emergency.
NNR CEO Bismark Mzubanzi Tyobeka said the mission's findings were similar to those identified by the regulator itself during a self-assessment that preceded the mission. "Nuclear safety and security are global issues, and to open ourselves to such an intensive peer review mission by the IAEA attests to our commitment to transparency and our vision of becoming recognized as an independent world-class regulatory authority," he said. "We welcome the observations and suggestions of the IAEA team and we will in the next three years embark on closing all the gaps and aim to invite an IRRS follow-up mission in 2020."
DOH deputy director general Anban Pillay, said the department's ability to comply fully with global best practice had been challenged by budgetary pressures. "We have begun to address this issue through an initiative that would place regulatory responsibilities in a single authority with the ability to secure adequate funding," he said.
The IAEA's IRRS missions are designed to strengthen the effectiveness of national radiation safety regulatory infrastructure, while recognizing the responsibility of each member state to ensure nuclear and radiation safety. They are held at the invitation of the host country.
Greg Rzentkowski, director of the IAEA's Division of Nuclear Installation Safety, said the South African government's invitation and hosting of its first IRRS mission demonstrated that it takes its responsibility for nuclear safety seriously. "This mission, thus far the most comprehensive in Africa, strengthens nuclear safety not only in the country, but also globally though the sharing of experiences and lessons learned," he said.
A final mission report will be provided to the South African government within three months.
Researched and written
by World Nuclear News