Skip to content

UK meets its international obligations in ONR's first year as domestic safeguards regulator

The Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) has enabled the UK to meet all its new international safeguards obligations in its first year as the domestic safeguards regulator, following departure from the European Union.

The UK’s independent nuclear regulator officially became the state regulatory authority for nuclear safeguards at 11pm on New Year's Eve, 2020, after the exit from the European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM).

This major change required a significant increase in the number of staff in the ONR safeguards team, increasing from six to 26 personnel, as we established a Safeguards Subdivision, integrated into our existing Civil Nuclear Security (CNS) Division.

In 2021, ONR rigorously monitored the country's compliance with international obligations not to use nuclear materials from civil nuclear programmes for non-peaceful purposes.

The main functions of the new safeguards team include:

  • securing compliance with domestic safeguards regulations
  • the facilitation of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards activities in the UK
  • enabling the UK to meet its international safeguards obligations including the operation of the State System of Accounting for and Control of Nuclear Material (SSAC)

As part of a wide-ranging programme of regulation, the safeguards team carried out numerous interventions in 2021 and facilitated many visits to the UK from the IAEA - the world's inter-governmental forum that works to ensure peaceful uses of nuclear science and technology.

ONR’s safeguards team regulated all of Britain’s holders of qualifying nuclear material which encompass a diverse range of organisations, from operators of major nuclear facilities including reactors, reprocessing plants, and fuel enrichment and fabrication plants, down to qualifying nuclear facilities with limited operation such as universities, research centres, and small businesses.

Regular safeguards site visits were carried out at facilities including Sellafield, Urenco at Capenhurst in Chester, the Dounreay site in Scotland and Springfields nuclear fuel production installation in Lancashire, along with inspections at EDF and Magnox run facilities.

Along with meeting our international safeguards obligations, ONR facilitated all planned IAEA safeguards activities despite the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent access limitations to the UK.

In November, an annual review of our safeguards implementation led to positive feedback from the IAEA about ONR's first year delivering the new regime.

Alan Homer, ONR's Professional Lead for Safeguards said: "The 12 months have gone very well due to our joined approach combining safeguards, safety and security where possible, and the current maturity of the 70-year-old nuclear industry in the UK.

"Across the industry, most of our inspections have been green-rated, with only a small handful of amber-rated which have led to us asking for improvements to be made.

"We recognise that while the first year has gone well there are always areas for development, so we will continue to evolve our regulatory approach."