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International experts review German nuclear regulatory authorities under the IRRS mission of the IAEA

What is an IRRS mission?

Over the past two decades, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in cooperation with its member states, has developed a number of services to further improve and develop nuclear safety and security in the member states. On the request of a member state the IAEA provides these services in the form of a mission. International experts with comparable responsibilities and experience in IAEA organisational and thematic support are despatched on peer review missions.

The thematic scope and the standards for the reviews are defined by the IAEA safety standards which were jointly developed by all member states. The Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) was established to evaluate the organisation and performance of nuclear regulatory authorities. The international experts themselves work for nuclear regulatory authorities in other states and are therefore familiar with the type of responsibilities and work involved. An IRRS mission was carried out in Germany in September 2008. The Federation was represented by the Federal Environment Ministry (BMU), the Länder by the Ministry for the Environment of the State of Baden-Württemberg (UM BW).

At the end of an IRRS mission the IAEA team of experts produces a report containing recommendations and suggestions on areas where there is room for improvement. It also highlights the "exemplary areas", in which the national regulatory authorities have exceeded international standards. An international team of experts evaluates and reviews the implementation of the recommendations and suggestions during a follow-up mission which takes place after an interval of two to four years. As a rule most of these experts were involved in the original mission. In Germany, the last follow-up mission took place in September 2011.

The entire scope of the review is based on thematic modules, derived from the IAEA safety standards, in particular GS-R-1 and GS-R-3. These modules apply to the entire IRRS process.

Member states of the European Union have committed to conducting such a review every ten years in future.

 Fig.: A simplified overview of the entire IRRS process (in German)

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IRRS missions 2008 and 2011 in Germany

At the invitation of the German government, the IAEA conducted a review of nuclear regulators at both national and Länder level. The two-part review comprised the 2008 IRRS mission and the follow-up in 2011.

Preparations for the 2008 IRRS mission

In a first step, the Directorate for Safety of Nuclear Installations in the BMU and Department 3, Nuclear Energy Supervision, Radiation Protection in the UB BW completed a self-assessment of the German nuclear oversight, based on the 248 questions of the IAEA IRRS guidelines. This included identifying areas in Germany’s oversight which needed improvement to reach international standards. To this end, in a second step the BMU drew up an action plan with 20 measures. The UM BW action plan comprised 39 measures. Measures include the areas "human resources and knowledge management", "further development of regulatory oversight", "updating nuclear rules and legislation" and "improving cooperation with the Länder". In a third step to prepare the international team, the responses of the BMU and the UM BW to the IRRS catalogue of questions, as well as the results of the self-assessment, the action plans, a compilation of relevant laws and provisions and documents on the organisation and modus operandi of the authorities were collected as Advance Reference Material, (ARM) (PDF, 3.7 MB) and submitted to the IAEA.

The 2008 mission

In September 2008 a team of 12 international experts from 11 countries, together with three IAEA staff members, spent two weeks at the BMU and UM BW examining how the authorities perform their nuclear oversight tasks. The team of experts was made up of high-ranking representatives from the United Kingdom, United States, Spain, Finland, Korea, Czech Republic, Japan, Netherlands, Switzerland, France and Canada.

During the mission, the team talked directly with representatives from both ministries. There were also meetings with representatives from the technical support organisations and discussions at the highest level with the ministries. Based on these talks and the ARM, the experts developed recommendations and commended those actions deemed good practice in an international comparison. All recommendations were derived from requirements under the IAEA safety standards.

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Results of the 2008 IRRS mission

The experts’ evaluation was published in a report which the IAEA presented to the BMU and the UM BW in November 2008. Both ministries have published this report on their webpages. The experts' assessment was mainly positive, but also identified potential for improvement. For these areas the experts formulated 13 recommendations and 34 suggestions. Most of those directed at the BMU had already been included in the ministry’s own action plan. Following an analysis of the final report, additional points were added to the BMU action plan. Eight key areas emerged, including human resources in the authorities, performance of oversight, nuclear rules and regulations and the Federation-Länder relationship. The subsequent task of the BMU and the UM BW was to develop and implement measures based on the recommendations and suggestions in the report. During the follow-up mission, the BMU and the UM BW showed the international team of experts the corresponding measures they had taken.

The 2011 follow-up mission

The follow-up mission took place from 4 to 10 September 2011. It consisted of thoroughly investigating the implementation of the recommendations and suggestions made in 2008. In addition and for the first time, the scope of this IAEA IRRS mission included an examination into whether and in what ways German authorities had drawn conclusions relevant to their own oversight activities from events in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Eight high-ranking representatives from international nuclear regulatory authorities and three IAEA staff members spent a week evaluating the competent government agencies of the BMU and the UM BW. As in 2008, they interviewed representatives from the two authorities. In contrast to the 2008 mission, however, representatives from other Länder with nuclear power plants in operation were also invited to attend the review.

The basis for the evaluation in the 2011 follow-up mission, were the documents compiled and previously submitted by the BMU and the UM BW (ARM), a special Fukushima Supplement (PDF, barrier free, 1.1 MB) and direct talks between the international and national experts. The ARM for the follow-up mission in 2011 included a progress report by the two regulatory authorities detailing the status of implementation of the recommendations and suggestions made in 2008. National developments resulting from the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi accident were addressed in the Fukushima Supplement. Particularly relevant in this context were the review of German nuclear power plants by the Reactor Safety Commission (RSK), the report by the Ethics Commission and the 13th amendment to the Atomic Energy Act.

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International experts confirm positive results

The IAEA report on the follow-up mission certifies that the German regulatory authorities have made major progress in implementing the 2008 recommendations and suggestions. For instance, the introduction of a computer-assisted knowledge management system and cooperation has proved invaluable for improving collaboration between the Federation and the Länder. The report states: "The availability of this up-to-date online information to all involved parties has contributed to mutual trust and shared understanding among all stakeholders." The availability of many working materials vital for the work of government agencies was highlighted: "The approach contains a broad spectrum of nuclear safety information, including technical descriptions of nuclear power plants and resources for creating legislation, rule making and research."

The work of the national situation and assessment centres managed by the Federation, Länder and the GRS directly after the nuclear accident in Fukushima was also praised: "The prompt and coordinated incident response activities at BMU and UM BW to the Fukushima accident are commendable." The existing structures for situation assessment and public information were singled out for particular mention: "The environmental radiation monitoring programme and the communication to the public and interested parties were carried out in an exemplary manner."

Next IRRS mission in Germany planned for early 2019

The implementation of European provisions requires Germany to carry out a self-assessment of the country's legal, enforcement and organisational framework, including on the issue of safety in nuclear installations. International experts must subsequently be invited to conduct a review. To this end, the BMUB and the regulatory authorities of the Länder are planning a further IRRS mission at the beginning of 2019.

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Last update: 01.03.2017