NEA press room

Press kit: Nuclear safety and regulation

In general terms, the safety of a nuclear installation can be understood as the ability of the installation's systems and its personnel to prevent accidents from occurring, or should one occur, to mitigate its consequences to the practicable minimum. Ultimately, the radiological impact on individual people and the environment resulting from operating nuclear installations must be as small as possible considering both normal operation and potential accidents. Nuclear safety is achieved as a result of a number of complementary and overlapping factors:

Responsibility for nuclear safety is foremost a national one with each country responsible for the safety of the nuclear power plants that it permits to be constructed and operated within its borders. The prime responsibility for nuclear safety is assigned to licensed plant operators. Although the responsibility for safety is the operator's, regulatory review and control are essential. In all countries with a nuclear programme a nuclear regulatory organisation is responsible for licensing nuclear installations and for developing and enforcing the relevant regulations.

These regulatory organisations:

An important principle reflected in the IAEA Convention on Nuclear Safety (to which all states operating nuclear power plants are signatory) is the effective separation between the regulatory organisation and other groups involved in promoting or using nuclear energy. This ensures that the safety authority and its decision-making process are protected from undue external pressure.

* Safety culture may be defined as "that assembly of characteristics and attitudes in organisations and individuals which establishes that, as an overriding priority, nuclear plant safety issues receive the attention warranted by their significance". INSAG-4 Report, Safety Culture, 1991

NEA nuclear safety programme

Related NEA reports and publications

The Regulatory Goal of Assuring Nuclear Safety (2008)
The primary focus of the report is on how the regulatory body can systematically collect and make an integrated analysis of all the relevant safety information available to it and arrive at a sound judgement on the acceptability of the level of safety of the facilities that it regulates. (2008)

Nuclear Power Plant Operating Experiences from the IAEA/NEA Incident Reporting System 2002-2005
The Incident Reporting System (IRS) is an essential element of the international operating experience feedback system for nuclear power plants. The IRS is jointly operated and managed by the NEA and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a specialised agency within the United Nations System. (2006)

Nuclear Regulatory Decision Making La prise de décision en matière de réglementation nucléaire
Based on the work of a Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) expert group, this report discusses some of the basic principles and criteria that a regulatory body should consider in making decisions and describes the elements of an integrated framework for regulatory decision making. (2005)

Direct Indicators of Nuclear Regulatory Efficiency and Effectiveness Indicateurs directs de l’efficience et de l’efficacité de la réglementation nucléaire : Résultats du projet pilote
Pilot Project Results
A task group was established by the NEA Committee on Nuclear Regulatory Activities (CNRA) to develop a set of direct performance indicators of regulatory efficiency and effectiveness. This report describes the pilot project carried out by the task group to test the indicators developed, and makes some general observations about the usefulness of individual indicators as well as recommendations for future activities. While primarily directed at nuclear safety regulators, the report may also be of interest to government authorities, nuclear power plant operators and the general public. (2004)

Regulatory and Industry Co-operation on Nuclear Safety Research Coopération autoritiés de sûreté-industrie pour la recherche en sûreté nucléaire - défis et potentialitiés
Challenges and Opportunities
Regulator-industry co-operation in nuclear safety research has potential advantages as well as disadvantages. This report provides research managers in industry, regulatory organisations and research centres with information on current practices in collaborative safety research in OECD member countries. It identifies means of establishing effective industry-regulator collaboration and provides indications on how to overcome difficulties that can arise. It also advises on possible areas of concern. The report addresses in particular the issue of regulator independence, means to preserve it and ways to demonstrate it to the public while undertaking collaboration with industry. (2003)

Advanced Nuclear Reactor Safety Issues and Research Needs
New nuclear reactor designs are expected to have a higher level of safety than current designs. As part of the efforts to achieve this, important safety issues related to the new designs need to be identified at an early stage, and research required for problem resolution defined. These proceedings bring together the papers presented at the OECD/NEA Workshop on Advanced Nuclear Reactor Safety Issues and Research Needs. Conclusions of the workshop discussions are offered at the end of the book, which will be of particular interest to all those involved in planning and designing the next generation of nuclear reactors. (2002)

Improving Versus Maintaining Nuclear Safety Juger les mises en conformité en matière de sûreté : un défi au plan réglementaire
The concept of improving nuclear safety versus maintaining it has been discussed at a number of nuclear regulators meetings in recent years. National reports have indicated that there are philosophical differences between NEA member countries about whether their regulatory approaches require licensees to continuously improve nuclear safety or to continuously maintain it. It has been concluded that, while the actual level of safety achieved in all member countries is probably much the same, this is difficult to prove in a quantitative way. In practice, all regulatory approaches require improvements to be made to correct deficiencies and when otherwise warranted. (2002)

Nuclear Fuel Safety Criteria Technical Review Examen des critères techniques de sûreté du combustible nucléaire
In this report, brief descriptions of 20 fuel-related safety criteria are presented along with both the rationale for having such criteria and possible new design and operational issues which could have an effect on them. No attempt was made to categorise the criteria according to event type or risk significance. This report will be of particular interest to nuclear engineers working in the area of fuel safety and to all those interested in general aspects of nuclear safety. (2001)

Assuring Future Nuclear Safety Competencies Maintenir à l'avenir les compétences de sûreté nucléaire Mesures spécifiques
The maintenance of nuclear safety competencies in the regulatory authorities is one of the most critical challenges to effective regulation of the nuclear power industry in member countries in the coming decades. The challenge arises partly from the age profile of staff in the regulatory bodies, which could result in the loss of much of the present nuclear safety knowledge base due to retirements, and partly to a decline in the numbers of students graduating from courses in nuclear science and engineering and becoming available for recruitment to fill the vacancies left by retirements. In many member countries, the age profile of staff in the nuclear power industry is similar to that in the regulatory authority. The industry will therefore be competing with the regulatory authority to recruit graduates, adding to the challenge. (2001)

Improving Nuclear Regulatory Effectiveness Améliorer l’efficacité des autorités de sûreté nucléaires
Ensuring that nuclear installations are operated and maintained in such a way that their impact on public health and safety is as low as reasonably practicable has been and will continue to be the cornerstone of nuclear regulation. The organisations, structures and processes of regulatory authorities have evolved over the past 50 or so years. Major changes have been made following events such as Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. As in the past, events such as the recent criticality incident at Tokai-mura will provide impetus for further reviews and changes. However, factors other than events are beginning to have an impact on how regulatory authorities will need to function. (2001)

In recent years a world-wide trend has been developing to introduce competition in electricity markets (commonly referred to as economic deregulation). While not all countries or their various jurisdictions have fully introduced market competition, the trend is gathering momentum and virtually all nuclear operating companies are feeling competitive pressures to reduce operating costs and to increase electricity production. (2001)

Regulatory Response Strategies for Safety Culture Problems
This report places emphasis upon those situations where there are signs of actual safety performance problems, which may or may not be reflected in declining operational performance. Thus, the purpose of this report is to explore possible regulatory response strategies for dealing with declining safety performance when the outward manifestations of that performance suggest that there may be fundamental safety culture problems. This report also discusses the resumption of normal surveillance after enhanced regulatory attention and intervention. (2000)

The NEA publishes around 40 reports a year on various technical aspects of nuclear safety. A list of those published within the last four years is available online.

Related links

Licence periods/terms for nuclear facilities in NEA member countries
A comparison of international practises with respect to license periods for nuclear-related activities was published in 2002. The tables were prepared by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) as background information to assist in their review of licensing periods.

Regulatory authority staffing levels
In 2001 the NEA Committee on Nuclear Regulatory Activities (CNRA) issued its regular status report on regulatory inspection, philosophy, inspection organisation and inspection practices in NEA member and 10 non-member countries. Part of this report was a summary table of the number of staff (including the number of inspectors) employed in each country's nuclear regulatory authority.

European Union Nuclear Installation Safety home page

IAEA Department of Nuclear Safety

IAEA Convention on Nuclear Safety

INSC - The International Nuclear Safety Center

Nuclear incidents

NEA Press kit: Chernobyl

Nuclear Events Web-based System (NEWS)
Nuclear events reporting system jointly managed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), NEA and World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO)

The report of the Uranium Processing Plant Criticality Accident Investigation Committee
Japan Nuclear Safety Commission Committee

Fact sheet on the accident at Three Mile Island
US Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Reactor vessel head damage at Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Plant
US Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Last updated: 4 March 2008