OECD Nuclear Energy Agency Committee on the Safety of Nuclear Installations (CSNI)
    Working Group on Fuel Cycle Safety (WGFCS)

    International Workshop on Operational and Regulatory Aspects of Criticality Safety

    Assessing the Challenges of Nuclear Criticality Safety from an Operational and Regulatory Perspective

    19-21 May 2015
    Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA

    Hosted by United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the United States Department of Energy

    General information

    The OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) Committee on the Safety of Nuclear Installations (CSNI) Working Group on Fuel Cycle Safety (WGFCS) held an international workshop on Operational and Regulatory Aspects of Criticality Safety (ORACS). The workshop was hosted jointly by the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the United States Department of Energy on 19-21 May 2015 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, United States. The announcement included information about the event and the call for papers submitted for presentation.


    Working under the mandate of the CSNI, the objective of the WGFCS is to advance the understanding for regulators, technical support organisations (TSO) and operators of relevant aspects of nuclear fuel cycle safety in NEA member countries.

    The objective of this workshop was to discuss and review current national activities, plans and strategies for maintaining and improving operational and regulatory approaches to criticality safety. Safety authorities and their TSO, fuel cycle facilities (FCF) operating organisations and international organisations were invited to share information on their approaches, practices and current developments.


    Criticality safety is an integral component of ensuring the continued safe operation of current reactor and fuel cycle facilities, as well as addressing new and interesting challenges that are expected in the design of anticipated future nuclear facilities. Fuel cycle facilities (FCFs) represent a broad range of operations including uranium enrichment, fuel fabrication, radioisotope production, reprocessing, decommissioning, waste management (storage, handling, maintenance, and disposal of fissile materials including spent and damaged fuel) and transportation. All these operations exhibit the need to maintain a complete and thorough nuclear criticality safety (NCS) Program. The workshop discussions were intended to bring significant regulatory and operational aspects of these programs into focus.

    Traditionally, NCS Programs have focused heavily on the preparation of deterministic criticality safety assessments based on computational modeling of normal and anticipated abnormal conditions to demonstrate subcriticality. These calculations form the basis for safety limits and controls embodying a defence-in-depth approach to safety known as the double contingency principle. In this deterministic approach, an operator assumes the failure of each control barrier occurs, without regard for the likelihood of occurrence, and demonstrates the system remains subcritical under the worst-credible condition that results. This is a very conservative approach that has resulted in a long record of safety but with the imposition of very large safety margins on regulated activities.

    In some countries, a risk-informed and performance-based approach has been recently introduced in operations and regulations to ensure safety of FCFs. The integration of probabilistic risk analysis methods with the traditional deterministic approaches employed in criticality safety practice has resulted in numerous complexities and challenges, especially in facilities handling and processing fissile materials due to the complexity of the physical and chemical forms and the diversity of their processes and hazards. For the probabilistic approach, the added complexity makes it even more important to focus on the regulatory aspects of criticality safety. In addition, the integration of risk assessment requires operational aspects of criticality safety to be considered in addition to the analytical elements. This workshop presents a unique opportunity to discuss criticality safety from an operational and regulatory perspective, to complement the more traditional deterministic and computational context. The workshop was centered on the following focus areas:

    • national regulatory approaches;
    • operational NCS analysis;
    • operational considerations.

    Scope and contents

    The workshop addressed these issues, in order to provide an opportunity to discuss regulatory, industry and operational perspectives from participating countries.

    National regulatory approaches:

    • regulatory criterion and guidance (sub-critical margins, prevention or mitigation of consequences, human and organizational factors, design principles, national reporting of events);
    • assessing NCS for proposed operations (verification of engineered and administrative controls);
    • implementation and evaluation of operations (audits, inspections, change management and configuration control);
    • post-operational clean-out criterion/methods.

    Operational NCS analysis:

    • completeness: avoiding unanalysed and other improper conditions;
    • risk-informed versus traditional deterministic defence-in-depth framework;
    • consideration of human and organizational factors;
    • conservatism and uncertainties of NCS Analysis;
    • application case – A comparison of safety practices based on a practical application;
    • operational implications on the use of burn-up credit for spent fuel for storage, transportation and disposal.

    Operational NCS implementation:

    • main practices, controls, and challenges for preventing inadvertent criticality events;
    • lessons learned from operating experience (including research and development needs) and potential regulatory gaps;
    • use of neutron poisoned fixtures for NCS;
    • operator training for NCS.

    The initial product would be the workshop proceedings. However if it was considered to have value by the WGFCS, a more in depth document, such as a state-of-the-art report would be produced.

    Format and outline

    The workshop was divided into five sessions: an opening session; technical sessions (three); and a final summary session. All the speakers were expected to take part in the discussions at the panel sessions after the end of each technical session, and in the formulation of conclusions in the final summary session.

    Site visit

    A site visit to a US Department of Energy (DOE) research facility was organised.

    Logistics and participation


    Participation was open to experts from FCF operating organisations, regulatory authorities and their technical support organisations, FCF designers and vendors, and industry associations and observers from OECD/NEA member countries.

    Location and accommodation

    The workshop was hosted by the US NRC and US DOE and was held in Albuquerque, New Mexico, United States.

    All costs incurred by participants for travel, stay and daily expenses were the responsibility of the participant and are not borne by the OECD/NEA or US NRC.


    All presentations and discussions were n English, and good command of the English language was necessary to fully benefit from the workshop.

    Workshop proceedings

    Proceedings from the workshop were published, and included full papers and presentations from the opening session and all technical sessions, conclusions and recommendations from discussions in panel sessions and final summary session of the workshop.

    Workshop organising committee

    The workshop organising committee (WOC) planned the sessions and the final program for the workshop. The following persons formed the workshop organising committee:

    Name Country Organisation Roles
    Consuelo Alejano Spain CSN
    Gregory Chapman USA NRC  
    José M. Conde Spain ENUSA Operational NCS Analysis Session Chair
    Stéphane Evo France IRSN National Regulatory Approaches Session Chair
    Clive Ingram UK ONR  
    Robert Johnson USA NRC WOC Chair
    Eric Létang France IRSN  
    Véronique Lhomme France IRSN Operational Considerations Session Chair/Co-chair
    Oll i Nevander OECD/NEA ORACS Secretariat
    Nakata Tetsuo Japan JNRA  
    Kotaro Tonoike Japan JAEA  
    Eckhart Westermeier Germany BfS Operational Implementation Session Chair/Co-chair
    Hatsumi Yoshida Japan JNRA  
    Tom Hiltz USA DOE  


    Olli Nevander
    Nuclear Safety Division
    OECD Nuclear Energy Agency
    Le Seine St-Germain
    12, boulevard des Îles
    92130 Issy-les-Moulineaux
    Tel.: +33 1 45 24 10 58

    Robert Johnson
    Fuel Manufacturing Branch
    Division of Fuel Cycle Safety and Safeguards
    Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards
    US Nuclear Regulatory Commission
    Washington, DC 20555-0001
    United States
    Tel.: +1 (301) 287-9083

    Last reviewed: 22 May 2015