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IAEA - International Atomic Energy Agency

12/05/2021 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 12/05/2021 09:56

The Implications of Next Generation Reactors for Emergency Preparedness and Response

What should countries, regulators and operators consider when planning and implementing emergency preparedness and response (EPR) programmes for next generation reactors (NGRs)? What lessons can they learn from previous experiences with existing reactors, and what new challenges or concerns might emerge? These were among the questions discussed at a recent technical meeting at the IAEA headquarters in Vienna, Austria on next generation reactors and emergency preparedness and response.

"The emergency preparedness and response considerations for these new technologies call for a multi-hazard approach. We need to consider aspects specific to the design, deployment and operation of these new technologies, from both a nuclear safety and nuclear security perspective, to better inform decisions on needed emergency arrangements," said Frederic Stephani, Incident and Emergency Assessment Officer with the IAEA.

Over the past four years, the IAEA has held a series of technical meetings on emergency preparedness and response as it relates to 'next generation reactors': innovative nuclear reactor designs under research and development, including those recently deployed or intended for near term deployment. This meeting was the latest in the series, which concentrates on the safety of NGRs, specifically: how safety improvements may impact emergency preparedness and response arrangements for these reactors and the applicability of specific emergency preparedness and response IAEA safety standards for these reactors.

As the world seeks to find low-carbon sustainable replacements for aging fossil-fuel-fired plants, global interest in NGRs, such as small modular reactors (SMRs) and micro-reactors, as part of a hybrid energy system, is growing. SMRs are advanced reactors that produce up to 300 MW(e) of electricity per module and micro-reactors comprise a subset of SMRs designed to generate electrical power typically up to 10 MW(e). The foreseen advantages of these reactors include greater affordability, shorter construction time, flexible application and smaller environmental footprints.

SMRs' lower costs and more flexible siting characteristics are advantageous for both countries with established nuclear power programmes and countries that are just embarking on their nuclear programme. In these novel reactors' safety in all aspects, including emergency preparedness and response, is a crucial consideration.

"Embarking States' interest in SMRs hinges on, their inherently simpler designs, transportability and enhanced safety margins which allow for customized EPR arrangements," said Emmanuel Mulehane Acholla, a geologist with the Nuclear Power and Energy Agency in Kenya and participant in the recent technical meeting. "However, in line with existing national regulations that are based upon large nuclear power plants, there is still a need to critically evaluate hazards specific to SMRs and to be well-informed about the appropriate EPR arrangements."

Participants highlighted the importance of applying a graded approach, based on the results of hazard assessment, to informed decisions on the required on-site and offsite EPR arrangements. This includes the zones or areas in which protective actions need to be taken. "Another point raised in the meeting was public communication: the results from the hazard assessment can be used to communicate with the public in embarking countries on the protection strategy and how associated arrangements provide for public protection," Acholla said.

There are currently over 70 small modular reactors' designs at various developmental stages, and several existing and embarking nuclear energy countries are considering these emerging nuclear technologies.