International event focuses on nuclear supply chain

21 September 2021

The nuclear industry will need to achieve even closer coordination among licensees, regulators and suppliers to ensure its supply chain can efficiently meet the needs of buyers, according to participants in an event held by Foratom and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Some of the changes instigated to deal with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, including remote working and the use of digital platforms, are here to stay.

(Image: Lu Han/IAEA)

Management systems for a sustainable nuclear supply chain, which took place on 7-9 September, was the 16th in a series of joint events organised by Foratom and the IAEA to raise awareness and increase understanding of management systems as integrating all the vital objectives of nuclear facilities and activities. The virtual event looked at how the nuclear industry is managing developments - such as a shift from global towards localised supply; the adoption of novel, innovative technologies such as additive manufacturing methods; and preparations for the introduction of small modular reactors (SMRs) - against the backdrop of the global pandemic.

Mikhail Chudakov, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Nuclear Energy in opening remarks at the event, said the COVID-19 pandemic had affected the nuclear supply chain by introducing longer lead times for new construction and some major refurbishment projects while also impacting the mobility of contractors, although the industry remained resilient. "Despite the pandemic and all the related lockdowns, there were no enforced shutdowns of nuclear power plants or major disruptions or outages," he said in his opening remarks.

Different national regulations, standards and legislation highlight the difficulty of harmonising the nuclear supply chain, as well as creating a global framework to enable the use of high-quality 'commercial grade' components not manufactured specifically for the nuclear sector. The nuclear industry can manage such developments through further innovation, such as the development of a methodology for qualifying materials and components produced by additive manufacturing that comply with nuclear codes and standards, the meeting heard.

Suppliers need to be fully aware of all requirements and emerging guidance, as the deployment of SMRs for electricity and non-power applications approaches. The industry must also be open to suppliers that are new to the nuclear sector - and if necessary, licensees should be prepared to educate new suppliers to enable them to bring their products into compliance and to keep them in the supply chain.

Changes instigated by companies to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic have included remote work, remote audits and verifications, digital sampling of documents and better risk management. In an IAEA webinar held as part of the event, Marc Tannenbaum, project manager at the USA's Electric Power Research Institute, cited a survey finding that almost 70% of respondents planned to retain some of those changes.

The IAEA is supporting the development of proactive management systems of supply chains and well-planned procurement by owners and operators, with the aim of facilitating industry co-operation. The agency last year launched a Nuclear Supply Chain Toolkit and has also launched a series of webinars, training courses and other events to support countries in coordinating among regulators, technical support organisations, nuclear facility owners and operators, and their suppliers, and nuclear facilities and their suppliers to improve common understanding when dealing with supply chain issues.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News