An Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) team from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has concluded a 13-day mission to Argentina. The IRRS team reviewed all regulatory functions and responsibilities of the Nuclear Regulatory Authority (ARN) against international safety standards and concluded that the regulator had demonstrated a long-standing commitment to enhancing and promoting nuclear safety. The team also recommended areas where improvements can be made. The mission was conducted at the request of the Government of Argentina and hosted by ARN.

The IRRS team comprised 19 senior regulatory experts from Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Cuba, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Netherlands, Pakistan, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Russian Federation, Spain, Switzerland, the UK and the USA, and four IAEA staff members, as well as two observers.

Argentina has three nuclear power plants in operation — Atucha I and II, and Embalse — generating 7-10% of its electricity. It is also building its first prototype small modular reactor (SMR), the CAREM 25. Argentina also operates a number of research reactors and fuel cycle facilities and uses radiation sources in facilities and in activities in the fields of research, industry, medicine and agriculture.

The team reviewed documents submitted by ARN and observed its regulatory activities, including regulatory inspections, at the Embalse NPP, at a fuel cycle facility, a research reactor, laboratories, a radiotherapy facility, and a radioactive waste management facility at the Atucha site.

The team found that Argentina has a comprehensive and robust regulatory system for nuclear and radiation safety. They recognised that ARN has been successfully implementing a comprehensive education and training programme in radiation and nuclear safety for more than 40 years for countries in the region.

“The review has permitted the team to develop a broad understanding of the governmental, legal and regulatory framework, resulting in recommendations and suggestions that should benefit nuclear and radiation safety in Argentina,” said Javier Zarzuela, Technical Director at the Spanish Nuclear Safety Council (CSN), Spain’s regulatory body, and the IRRS team leader. “By inviting this international full scope peer review, Argentina shows openness, transparency and commitment to continuous improvement.”

The IRRS team identified a number of areas of good performance that could be shared, including:

ARN’s capability to make its regulatory decisions based on measurements and radiological safety evaluations carried out in its own laboratories.The certification awarded by an independent certification organisation of the provisions of ARN’s action plan to continue effectively discharging its responsibilities and maintain credibility during the COVID-19 pandemic.The systematic and innovative way ARN communicated about a new safety regulation to the public and licensees in order to ensure its effective implementation.

In addition, the IRRS team recognized the excellent preparatory work done by Argentina, including the identification of a number of findings during its self-assessment that were later confirmed by the IRRS mission.

The team says that the main challenge for ARN is to revise or develop several regulatory regulations and guides, which can be a lengthy process. In addition, the IRRS team made other recommendations and suggestions that indicate where improvements are necessary or desirable to continue enhancing the effectiveness of regulatory functions in line with IAEA safety standards, including:

Establishment of a fiduciary fund for decommissioning activities, radioactive waste and spent fuel management.Establishment of a process to review and revise, as necessary, standards and guides to keep them up to date.Further strengthening of the formalisation of the national plan for response against nuclear and radiological emergencies.

Agustín Arbor González, President of the Board of Directors of ARN, said he was satisfied with the IRRS mission process. “Argentina has a long-standing commitment to nuclear safety. Having completed a self-assessment prior to this mission, we are satisfied that, overall, our regulatory system, which is predominantly based on performance criteria, complies with IAEA safety standards”. He added that “there are some topics that need further work, and we are committed to making improvements.” The final mission report will be provided to the Government of Argentina in about three months.

Image: The Embalse nuclear plant site

Date: Friday, 16 September 2022
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