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ONR shares pro-innovation approach to regulating AI in the nuclear sector

The Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) has today published a policy paper outlining its pro-innovation approach to regulating artificial intelligence (AI) in the nuclear sector.

The paper (available in PDF or Word format) shares ONR’s strategic approach to AI and how this aligns with the expectations outlined in the UK government’s 2023 AI Regulation White Paper, which establishes a framework for regulators to interpret and then apply to AI within their remits.

The government’s framework is based on five principles:

  • safety, security and robustness
  • appropriate transparency and explainability
  • fairness
  • accountability and governance
  • contestability and redress

ONR and other regulators were recently asked by the Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to publish updates on how their regulatory approaches align with these principles.

In its update, ONR describes how its existing goal-setting and non-prescriptive regulatory regime provides a supportive environment for dutyholders to innovate, in particular its focus on outcomes and technology neutrality to ensure the most cost-effective solutions.

ONR welcomes the growing appetite of dutyholders to apply AI technology in a way that could improve safety and reduce hazards.

As an enabling regulator, ONR is already well aligned with the five principles outlined in the government's white paper.

It has engaged with stakeholders to minimise regulatory uncertainty, contributed to the development of relevant good practice and encouraged safe exploration of the beneficial uses of AI while ensuring that risks are managed.

This has included establishing an AI-focused team of specialist safety and security inspectors, alongside the ONR innovation hub, and commissioning research to explore the suitability of ONR’s current approach to regulating AI.

ONR’s programme of work aligning with the five principles in the white paper has also included:

  • Taking part in a five-year UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)-funded  project alongside universities, nuclear site licensees and other regulators, focusing on the development of robotics for the UK nuclear industry and how to structure associated safety arguments;
  • Developing regulatory sandboxing as a tool for dutyholders and regulators to test innovative technologies in collaboration while exploring the suitability of the existing regulatory framework;
  • Updating guidance for ONR inspectors, supported by early engagement with dutyholders to foster open dialogue and explain our regulatory expectations;
  • Regularly engaging with international partners and UK regulators, sharing best practice and collaborating to build regulatory capability; and
  • Providing regulatory advice to dutyholders and the wider nuclear sector.

Further work is planned during the next 12 months, including building capability within ONR’s AI-focused team and the wider inspectorate, as well as delivering additional sandboxing exercises and other tools to enable open conversations about new technologies and approaches within ONR.

This will ensure ONR continues adapting and responding to the fast-changing AI landscape and the needs of its stakeholders, as well as engaging with government to share knowledge, learning and case studies.

What is ONR doing to regulate AI?