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Eleven international bilateral meetings signal growing global nuclear regulatory collaboration

The Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) attended 11 separate bilateral meetings with fellow international regulators last week as collaboration within the international nuclear community continues to strengthen.

Mark Foy, ONR Chief Executive and Chief Nuclear Inspector, met with regulators from Switzerland, Japan, Belgium, the Netherlands, the United Arab Emirates, Sweden, Ukraine, Australia, Hungary and a separate bilateral meeting with the European Commission.

These engagements were held in the margins of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) General Conference in Vienna in recent days.

Three new Information Exchange Agreements (IEAs) were signed between ONR and the Japanese Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) and the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine (SNRIU).

ONR enters into IEAs with other international nuclear regulators to share information, experience and good practice, where it is believed to be mutually beneficial, and in the UK’s national interests.

Each IEA differs, but in general covers the exchange of safety-related information concerning the regulation of siting, construction, commissioning, operation, transport of radioactive material, radioactive waste management and decommissioning of civil nuclear installations; and preparedness and management of nuclear and radiological emergencies.

With Dr Yamanaka Shinsuke, Chairman of the NRA, Mark discussed the present status and future of the UK nuclear industry, the current position regarding the restart of the Japanese nuclear fleet and Japan’s plans for dealing with nuclear waste and ambitions for a geological disposal facility.

During the meeting, Mark confirmed his support for Japan’s approach to the discharge of Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) treated water from the Fukushima Daiichi site, recognising the ALPS treatment removes radio isotopes from the water prior to release, leaving tritium that will be discharged in such small quantities that its release will cause no harm to the environment or people.

During ONR's bilateral conversation with ARPANSA, topics included their upcoming visit to the UK later this year, the development and challenges for regulatory capacity and capability, interfaces between differing regulators and the recruitment and training of inspectors.

In talks with the United Arab Emirates' Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR), Mark and Christer Viktersson, its Director General, explored how they could learn from ONR's work on safety culture and approach to inspecting operational nuclear facilities, along with greater collaboration on innovation and artificial intelligence. ONR's ongoing CNI themed inspection on climate change is also something FANR colleagues wish to learn from.

With the Hungarian Atomic Energy Authority (HAEA), there were discussions about the signing of a future IEA between the two organisations.

Other topics included the development of legal and regulatory frameworks, potential opportunities for future cooperation, the recent successful workshop hosted by ONR on Generic Design Assessment and Small Modular Reactors (SMR) which the HAEA attended, prescriptive versus goal setting regulatory regimes and the status of the operating fleet in both countries.

In a bilateral between ONR and the European Commission, Mark and Massimo Garribba, its Deputy Director General for Euratom Coordination, spoke of new build in the UK and EU countries, including the EU’s SMR partnership, the launch of Great British Nuclear to deliver the UK government’s nuclear targets, and high-temperature gas reactor prototype proposals.

ONR has IEAs with a range of international regulators. These agreements are non-binding but do establish the protocol and expectations for sharing information.

Mark said: "These bilateral meetings with our fellow nuclear regulators are vital to help us work together to learn and share from each other, also helping to align international standards and guidance that will enable strong collaboration going forward.

"Many of us see great value in adopting harmonised approaches to the regulation of SMR technologies and the benefits this provides as the new build programmes in the UK, and in other countries around the world, come more keenly into focus.

"ONR has an important role to play internationally in influencing the standards that ensure public protection.

“The IEAs signed this week will allow us to benchmark our respective approaches and exchange regulatory and technical information, share experience and expertise on nuclear safety, security and safeguards, along with exploring potential secondment opportunities."