IAEO IRRS mission: International experts review German nuclear regulatory authorities

What is an IRRS mission?

IRRS stands for Integrated Regulatory Review Service and is a service offered by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to its member states for improving and further developing nuclear safety worldwide.

The key elements of an IRRS mission are self-assessment by the member state of its national legislative, regulatory and organisational framework for the safety of nuclear installations prior to the mission and subsequent review by an international team during the IRRS mission.

The IRRS mission process

The first step is self-assessment by the member state based on IAEA Safety Standards. The responses are subsequently evaluated and a National Action Plan for improving national regulatory supervision is drawn up. A dossier consisting of the self-assessment, the National Action Plan and background information (legislative acts, nuclear regulations, et cetera) must be compiled and forwarded to the mission team of experts as Advance Reference Material (ARM). The experts of the international team work at nuclear regulatory authorities in other countries and are therefore familiar with the scope and tasks of the work.

The mission trip takes two weeks. During the mission, the expert team conducts interviews with employees of nuclear regulatory bodies, Technical Support Organisations (TSOs) and plant operators. On-site reviews of supervision in individual nuclear installations are also carried out. The findings of the IRRS mission are set out in a report drawn up by the IAEA team. This report contains recommendations and suggestions for areas where the international team of experts see potential for improvement. It also notes those areas in which the national regulatory bodies exceed the international good practice standard. In a follow-up mission, an international team of experts assesses and reviews the implementation of their recommendations and suggestions. The follow-up takes place two to four years after the initial mission. As a rule most of the expert team working on the follow-up were involved in the original mission.

An IRRS mission was conducted in Germany in 2008 with a follow-up in 2011.

The whole IRRS process in a simplified overview, starting with self-assessment (according to IAEA standards, IRRS guidelines, IRRS questionnaire), followed by the development of an action plan, IRRS mission (gives recommendations, hints and good practices), adaptation of the action plan, progress report and finally the IRRS follow-up mission. The implementation of recommendations, advice and actions continuously intervenes in each of these points.

Figure: An overview of the entire IRRS process.

IRRS mission from 31 March to 12 April 2019

The second IRRS mission took place in Bonn from 31 March to 12 April 2019.

This was in compliance with EU obligations under Directive 2009/71/Euratom in the version of Directive 2014/87/Euratom, which stipulates that EU member states must conduct, at least every ten years, a self-assessment of their national legislative, regulatory and organisational framework, including that of the safety of nuclear installations, and submit this for subsequent review by international experts.

Directive 2009/70/Euratom contains an equivalent obligation for the management of spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste. To meet the latter obligation, a review mission was conducted by the IAEA Radioactive Waste Management Integrated Review Service (ARTEMIS) at the end of September 2019. To benefit from synergies, the scope of the IRRS mission was extended to include nuclear waste management. This enabled the ARTEMIS mission to use the IRRS mission findings relating to waste management and focus on reviewing the National Waste Management Programme.

Preparations for the IRRS mission

As explained in the introduction, the IRRS mission process kicks off with the national self-assessment of the regulatory supervision system.

The self-assessment was based on a catalogue of over 670 questions. In a first step, the requirements of the IAEA Safety Standards were compared with German licensing and regulatory practices (comparison of rules). Subsequently, the questions were answered. The range of the catalogue of questions required this work to be distributed among the participating authorities, with due coordination and discussion of responses. Work on the self-assessment took around 17 months.

Issues found by the self-assessment to be open, including measures to be taken, were set out in the National Action Plan. The actions drawn up include the areas "personnel management and maintaining competence", "strengthening international participation", and "further development of nuclear rules and regulations".

The self-assessment (responses to questions and summaries), the National Action Plan, the relevant legislative acts and documents on the organisation and work practices of the nuclear licensing and regulatory authorities were compiled in an ARM dossier and sent to the IAEA on 31 January 2019.

On 25 and 26 September 2018, members of the German IRRS team, IAEA employees and the mission team leadership held a preparatory meeting in Bonn. Participants were able to get to know each other and discuss the scope and focus of the mission, the schedule, site visits and other organisational and administrative aspects.

Carrying out the IRRS mission

The licensing and regulatory authorities of the Federation, Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, Hesse, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia and Schleswig-Holstein answered questions from a high-level international team of experts from regulatory bodies and the IAEA. The aim was to ascertain how far Germany's nuclear legislation and regulatory practices meet the requirements of international safety standards. Over the course of the mission, the team held many interviews with employees of the participating authorities. They also talked with Federal Environment Minister Svenja Schulze and Helmfried Meinel, director-general in the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of the Environment, Climate Protection and the Energy Sector. The international experts were able to form a more detailed picture of German inspection practices by accompanying an inspection in the Neckarwestheim Nuclear Power Station (GKN).

IRRS mission from 31 March to 12 April 2019

The results of the two-week mission were set out in a report which the IAEA submitted to Germany in mid-July 2019. The international team of experts confirmed that Germany's nuclear regulatory system meets the IAEA's international Safety Standards. The IRRS team judged the nuclear licensing and supervisory authorities of the Federation and federal states to be mature and competent, also highlighting the effective cooperation with other organisations and groups. The report identified areas of exemplary practice and areas with excellent implementation of the international Safety Standards. In six recommendations and 25 suggestions, the experts also noted areas with potential for improvement. Most of the recommendations and suggestions had already been put forward in the National Action Plan drawn up by the German authorities prior to the IRRS mission. They relate to the following topics: maintaining competence in nuclear safety up to and beyond the phase-out of commercial nuclear energy, further development of the safety standards for research reactors, decommissioning and waste management, improving management systems through regular assessments and independent reviews.

Over the coming years, the licensing and regulatory authorities of the Federation and Länder will be tasked with developing and implementing measures based on the recommendations and suggestions. This work will also serve to prepare for the follow-up mission.