ENSI’s Director General Wanner heads the IAEA mission to Armenia

For some years now, Armenia has demonstrated great readiness to host international review missions.
For some years now, Armenia has demonstrated great readiness to host international review missions.

The Director General of the Swiss Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate (ENSI) headed the group of international nuclear experts who reviewed the Armenian Nuclear Regulatory Authority (ANRA) on behalf of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). No fewer than 62 “recommendations” on improving supervisory practice were issued.

“The Armenian regulatory authority (ANRA) is confronted with some major challenges,” ENSI’s Director General Hans Wanner comments. “It is our duty to support the authority in its efforts to implement international safety standards in Armenia’s Mezamor nuclear power plant.” Two of the key recommendations issued by the mission of the IAEA’s Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) were also addressed to Armenia’s government: the principal cause of concern for the experts is the inadequacy of the available resources – not only for the safe operation of Armenia’s single nuclear power plant, but also for comprehensive monitoring of the plant by the Armenian regulatory authority.

Key recommendations

  • The government should establish and implement a policy for safety that demonstrates its long-term commitment to safety.
  • The government should provide ANRA with adequate human and financial resources, and authorize it to structure its organization and manage its resources.
For some years now, Armenia has demonstrated great readiness to undergo independent assessment by international review missions. Accordingly, the IRRS team assessed this open-minded attitude as exemplary. “However, the problem lies in implementation – as it always has done. Armenia simply lacks the resources to implement all the international requirements within the required periods.” In particular, the international community expects the Armenian regulatory authority to ensure that the knowledge gained from Fukushima is now implemented speedily in the Mezamor power plant.

Mezamor nuclear power plant

Armenia has one operational commercial nuclear reactor for power production. It was commissioned in 1980 and is located in the Mezamor nuclear power plant, about 30 kilometres to the west of Yerevan, the capital. With its gross capacity of 408 megawatts (MW), it covers some 40 per cent of Armenia’s power requirements. Unit 1 of the nuclear power plant was decommissioned in 1989 after a severe earthquake, but Unit 2 was returned to service in 1996 after improvement measures were implemented.
Team leader Wanner was able to emphasise the most important results of the IRRS mission in person when he visited Hovik Abrahamyan, Prime Minister of Armenia: “My impression was that the Prime Minister had a good understanding of our expectations of Armenia.” In particular, the PM promised to make a personal effort to ensure speedy progress with the licensing process for the extension of the operating licence for the Mezamor nuclear power plant.

Although the operating licence expires in September 2016, the regulatory authority has not yet received an application for an extension from the licensee. Together with the application, the operating company must submit comprehensive documentation to the regulatory authority regarding the condition of the facility and the backfits required for continued operation of the nuclear power plant. The review of these documents by the regulatory authority is a very complex process that – according to experience – requires more than a year.

Regulatory authority could come under pressure

“It is becoming apparent that the licensing process cannot be completed on time,” Hans Wanner explained during the media conference in Yerevan, the Armenian capital, at the conclusion of the IRRS mission. “We therefore fear that the regulatory authority will come under political pressure if it transpires that the plant has to be taken out of service due to the lack of a valid licence.”

The IRRS mission’s report will be finalised in the coming weeks at the IAEA in Vienna, and will then be published by the Armenian authorities.

Participation is in line with ENSI's strategy

One of the goals of ENSI’s cooperation at international level is to participate in international regulatory review missions with its own employees. This gives ENSI insights into the supervisory practice of other countries, which the Inspectorate can use as an instrument for advocating the safety principle of continuous improvement throughout the world. Also in keeping with its international strategy, ENSI calls for regulatory authorities and nuclear power plants to undergo regular and comprehensive reviews by missions of this sort, to make the results public, and to implement the necessary measures promptly in their countries.

IRRS mission

The IRRS – or Integrated Regulatory Review Service – is probably the IAEA’s most important review mission for authorities at present. It lasts two weeks and is conducted by ten to twenty international experts, depending on the areas supervised by the authority under review.

About three years after a mission, what is known as a follow-up mission takes place; this examines the implementation of the opportunities for improvement that were recommended during the mission as such. The international experts are recruited from different countries, and attention is paid to ensure that all cultures (regions of the globe) are represented as far as is possible.

Review of the nuclear power plants is not part of the mission’s remit. The IAEA’s OSART (Operational Safety Review Team) missions are responsible for this.

Switzerland most recently underwent a review by an IRRS mission at the end of 2011. The follow-up mission took place in April 2015.