In the face of a pandemic, an important pillar of any country's response strategy will be a reliable electricity supply. For many countries, nuclear power plants are part of this critical national infrastructure. While providing the flexibility and agile decision-making necessary to support licensee actions, regulators have an obligation to maintain high levels of nuclear safety. In doing so, they should:
- keep a critical eye on safety and security whilst not creating an undue burden on nuclear organisations as they manage the impact of the pandemic.
- confirm that nuclear power plants have adequate resources and competence to maintain safety and security including the capability to cope with emergencies.
- assure the health and safety of regulatory staff; if necessary changing how regulatory oversight is implemented, such as by using remote means to gain assurances.
- secure a timely information flow from nuclear organisations so that regulators have a clear and up to date understanding of what is happening on the sites they regulate.
- learn from global best practice at pace, so that learning can be implemented in a timely manner and captured in the aftermath.
- trust and verify; verification is done differently – reassessing the situation on the basis of past information available and remote inspections are other aspects of maintaining flexibility, with verification achieved with the support of nuclear operators and their internal assurance processes. There is a need for trust between licensees and regulators to enable remote regulation to function effectively.
The future: the lessons learnt will be critical to understanding and establishing the new normal. The way regulators operate in the future may need to evolve – especially if the impact of COVID-19 pandemic endures long-term. Greater application of risk-informed regulation and greater regulator-licensee trust may be part of the long-term legacy of the pandemic.