In its 2000 Annual Report published today, the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) notes that in the medium and long term, the evolution of nuclear energy programmes in OECD countries is likely to be influenced by the implementation of sustainable development policies integrating economic, environmental and social goals. The NEA published a report entitled Nuclear Energy in a Sustainable Development Perspective, which examines the characteristics of nuclear energy from such a viewpoint, and provides data and analyses aimed at supporting policy decisions. The report is part of the NEA contribution to the OECD horizontal project on sustainable development.
At the end of 2000, a total of 359 nuclear power units were in operation in OECD countries, providing approximately a quarter of the electricity supply. Key trends that affected nuclear power in 2000 included the continued deregulation of electricity markets, privatisation of the power sector and increasing awareness of environmental issues, especially the risk of global warming.
Market deregulation has increased the incentive for nuclear power plant operators to enhance efficiency. Availability factors of existing nuclear units in OECD countries have been steadily increasing and operating licenses have been extended up to 60 years in such countries as the United States. In a number of countries, market competition has accelerated restructuring of the nuclear industry. Several key aspects of this general trend were analysed in the NEA studies on Reduction of Capital Costs of Nuclear Power Plants and Nuclear Power in Competitive Electricity Markets, as well as at a workshop on Nuclear Power Plant Life Management in a Changing Business World.
NEA programmes in nuclear safety and regulation also focused on the challenges created by electricity market competition. Several reports were published addressing the improvement of nuclear regulatory effectiveness; future nuclear safety competencies; and the role of the regulator in promoting and evaluating safety culture.
The NEA has continued to make efficient use of the resources of international collaboration to set up new joint projects in the nuclear safety area, such as the MASCA project, bringing together 17 OECD countries and Russia, the Sandia Lower Head Failure Project, or the MCCI project, aimed at R&D in the area of severe accident management strategies, namely prevention and mitigation of molten fuel escaping the reactor vessel.
The international radiation protection system has been under review for some time, with a view to increase its coherence, clarity and transparency. The NEA has been progressively engaged in a direct dialogue with the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) in order to contribute to this objective. A Critical Review of the System of Radiation Protection was published during the year.
The lessons learnt from the NEA-sponsored INEX 2 series of international nuclear emergency exercises were analysed in 2000, with emphasis on operational nuclear emergency planning, preparedness and management. The publication Monitoring and Data Management Strategies for Nuclear Emergencies was released, to assist decision makers in this key area.
During the past year, there were a number of developments in the OECD area in relation to the management of long-lived radioactive waste. In France, construction began of a new underground laboratory and in the US, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant continued to receive defence-related transuranic waste. In Finland, implementation of a spent nuclear fuel disposal facility was approved by a local municipality, clearing the way for a parliamentary "decision in principle". Following a request by the Swedish Nuclear Safety Inspectorate, the NEA organised an international peer review of an important part of the decision basis for the Swedish spent nuclear fuel disposal programme. Within the Agency, work was started on the development, evaluation and communication of the "safety case" for radioactive waste disposal, as a basis for confidence and decision making in this field.
Another major step taken by the NEA was the launching of several initiatives intended to improve mutual understanding among industry, government and civil society on nuclear energy issues; participation of stakeholders in radiation protection and radioactive waste management decision making; and public trust in nuclear regulatory organisations. A Forum on Stakeholder Confidence in the field of radioactive waste management was also established as part of this broad programme on the societal aspects of nuclear energy.
The 2000 Annual Report of the Nuclear Energy Agency is available free online at www.oecd-nea.org/pub/annual-report.html and from the OECD Publications and Information Centres:
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