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ONR issues first consent under updated application of UK radiation laws

The Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) has issued its first consent to a nuclear site licensee under a newly updated application of the Ionising Radiations Regulations 2017 (IRR17).

The consent was issued in January 2024 to NNB Generation Company (HPC) Ltd for the management and control of major industrial radiography operations on the Hinkley Point C site in Somerset.

Big Karl, the world’s largest land-based crane, lifts HPC’s reactor cavity pool from its radiography enclosure into the Unit 1 Reactor building. Radiography was used to verify the integrity of the welds of the reactor compartment. Image courtesy of NNB Generation Company (HPC).

Since April 2023, all new consent applicants have been required to submit a safety assessment for each specified practice they plan to carry out, describing how they comply with IRR17.

This change brought the process in line with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) standards, following recommendation 11 of the IAEA’s 2019 Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) mission to the UK. 

IRR17 applies across all workplaces where employees or the public could be exposed to ionising radiation, which may be emitted by radioactive substances, electrical equipment or naturally occurring radioactive materials.

Specifically, Regulation 7 of IRR17 defines higher risk ‘specified practices’, for which dutyholders must seek consent from either ONR or the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

Examples of specified practices include long-term storage of radioactive waste, industrial radiography and the operation of accelerators.

This issuing of a newly applied consent follows extensive collaboration with industry representatives, the HSE and other regulators to create a new system that aligns with international standards.

Unit 1 Reactor cavity pool being fabricated and radiographed in a specially built radiography enclosure. Image courtesy of NNB Generation Company (HPC).

The update received proactive support from the Society for Radiological Protection (SRP), the UK chartered body for radiation protection professionals, which said ‘the revision of the consents process under IRR17 presents a unique and significant opportunity to improve radiation protection standards across the UK, in line with IAEA expectations’.

ONR’s inspectors are working to ensure all radiological practices on dutyholder sites with existing ONR consents are appropriately reviewed and reissued under the updated process during the next five years.

Gareth Thomas, ONR’s Professional Lead for Radiation Protection and Criticality, said: “This update will improve radiological protection standards, and the first consent granted by ONR – applied to one of the largest scale industrial open-site radiography operations to have taken place on a single premises in the UK, at Hinkley Point C – is a significant milestone on this journey.”

Craig Buckingham, Radiation Protection Manager at HPC, said: “We support the principles of continuous improvement and innovative approaches to regulation.”

Learn more about how ONR implements IRR17.