IAEA Director General receives an insight into Swiss backfitting philosophy

ENSI experts gave the Head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi, a guided tour of the Beznau nuclear power plant during a working visit to Switzerland. Grossi was given a picture of the continuous improvements made to nuclear safety as laid down in the Vienna Declaration, in the setting of the Beznau plant in Switzerland.

IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi (seen in the foreground) is provided a better picture of the Swiss backfitting philosophy at Beznau nuclear power plant: “The various safety backfits carried out at Beznau reflect the long-standing Swiss culture of safety”, he stated during his visit.

One of the key principles behind the Vienna Declaration, an agreement adopted by the international community back in 2015, stipulates that existing nuclear power plants should, wherever possible, be brought up to the safety standards demanded of new nuclear installations. Rafael Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), had chaired the Diplomatic Conference in the framework of the Convention on Nuclear Safety in 2015, convened at the behest of a Swiss initiative.

Grossi was in Switzerland this week for a working visit that included the Beznau nuclear power plant. Yesterday he was given a guided tour by ENSI experts to see some of the backfitting measures the plant has been carrying out on an ongoing basis. “The various safety backfits carried out at Beznau reflect the long-standing Swiss culture of safety, which is firmly rooted in the principle of making continuous improvements to nuclear safety”, commented IAEA Director General Grossi. “We are looking forward to Switzerland continuing to share this substantial experience with its international partners and in particular within the IAEA.”

The Beznau nuclear power plant has been carrying out a wide range of major backfitting projects since the 1990s to ensure that the safety standards at the plant are comparable to a newly-built facility. The following projects are just some of the initiatives Grossi saw during his tour of the plant:

  • New diesel generators and other modifications for the plant’s autonomous emergency power supply system (AUTANOVE)
  • Introduction of the bunkered emergency system (NANO)
  • Installation of a filtered containment pressure relief system (venting)
  • Backfitting of an additional earthquake-resistant emergency feedwater system

The Vienna Declaration

In February 2015, the international community adopted the Vienna Declaration on Nuclear Safety at a Diplomatic Conference in Vienna. The Vienna Declaration contains two fundamental safety principles:

  • New nuclear power plants are to be designed, sited, and constructed, consistent with the objective of preventing accidents in the commissioning and operation and, should an accident occur, mitigating possible releases of radionuclides causing long-term off site contamination and avoiding early radioactive releases or radioactive releases large enough to require long-term protective measures and actions.
  • Comprehensive and systematic safety assessments are to be carried out periodically and regularly for existing installations throughout their lifetime in order to identify safety improvements that are oriented to meet the above objective. Reasonably practicable or achievable safety improvements are to be implemented in a timely manner.

By adopting the Vienna Declaration, the 77 Contracting Parties to the Convention on Nuclear Safety undertook to report back to the respective international review meetings on how the Declaration is being implemented.

The Diplomatic Conference was convened in February 2015 following a Swiss proposal to amend the Convention in consideration of the lessons learned from the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

The following is the press release issued by the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) on the IAEA Director General’s visit to Switzerland:

Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis received Rafael Grossi, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in Bern today. Their discussions focused on Switzerland’s cooperation with the IAEA and current issues pertaining to nuclear non-proliferation. During his visit, Mr Grossi also met with representatives of the Swiss Federal Office of Energy, the Swiss Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate (ENSI), the Spiez Laboratory and the Beznau nuclear power plant.

Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis already spoke with IAEA director general Rafael Grossi in Vienna in February this year about current issues in the field of nuclear non-proliferation, in particular compliance with the nuclear agreement with Iran (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, JCPOA). Today’s meeting served to exchange views on the situation after both Federal Councillor Cassis and Director General Grossi had recently visited Iran. Their meeting provided an opportunity to share views on the latest developments in connection with the JCPOA.

They also met the director general of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), Patricia Danzi, to discuss the IAEA’s international cooperation activities. The IAEA is the main intergovernmental forum for scientific and technical co-operation in the nuclear field. In addition to working for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, it promotes cooperation on other applications of nuclear technology, for example in the medical field, and in relation to the environment, energy and ground water management. Through its activities, the IAEA seeks to contribute directly to attaining the Sustainable Development Goals.

Prior to this, Rafael Grossi visited the Spiez Laboratory, which has been an IAEA-designated Collaborating Centre since 2017 and regularly produces expert reports for the agency. Switzerland’s second Collaborating Centre is EPFL, which joined the scheme in mid-2019.

During his visit to Switzerland, Mr Grossi took the opportunity to meet the director of the Swiss Federal Office of Energy, Benoît Revaz. They talked primarily about Switzerland’s representation on the IAEA Board of Governors for the 2020–23 period, nuclear safety, security and verification.

Mr Grossi also visited the Beznau nuclear power plant, where officials from the plant and the ENSI showed him the work done to upgrade the facility in recent years.

Switzerland is one of the IAEA’s founding members and was elected to serve on the Board of Governors for another three-year term at the end of September 2020. The Board of Governors, which has 35 members, is one of the two policy-making bodies of the IAEA. Switzerland was previously a member of the Board of Governors for the 2014–17 period.