Good marks for Swiss nuclear supervision

The Swiss Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate (ENSI) acts independently, it has drawn the right conclusions from the accident at Fukushima, and it obliges operators of nuclear power plants to undertake back-fitting operations on a continuous basis: praise, as well as some specific suggestions for improvements for ENSI from the experts at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

James E. Lyons (IAEA), Jean-Christophe Niel (ASN) and Hans Wanner (ENSI) (from left to right)

The two-week review of ENSI by an international group of experts from the IAEA ended today. Between 20 November and 2 December 2011, more than two dozen experts from 14 countries took an in-depth and searching look at ENSI and its work. During the IRRS mission, as it is called, the IAEA experts visited many nuclear plants in Switzerland; they accompanied ENSI’s own inspectors on inspections, observed an emergency exercise and examined the statutory basis and the regulatory framework in Switzerland.

The experts’ verdict proves to be mostly positive. “Our team gained a good impression of ENSI as an independent organisation”, said Jean-Christophe Niel of France, the head of the mission team. The group of experts was especially impressed by ENSI’s reaction to the accident at Fukushima and the way it rapidly ordered measures for the nuclear power plants in Switzerland. Most of all, the experts praised the ongoing back-fitting of plants in Switzerland and adaptations to bring them up to the state-of-the-art.

The main aspect where the experts identified a need for improvement was the framework of government-imposed conditions within which ENSI acts. There should also be further development of the Swiss regulations in the areas of radioactive waste, shutdowns and transport.

“The results of the IRRS mission will help us to keep on improving our work. This is part of our safety culture,” said ENSI Director Hans Wanner. He also promised that Switzerland would initiate measures to implement the IAEA’s suggestions for improvements.

The full report by the IAEA on the IRRS mission in Switzerland will probably be completed in three months.

IAEA Media Release:

International Nuclear Safety Experts Conclude IAEA Peer Review of Swiss Regulatory Framework

2 December 2011 | Brugg, Switzerland – A team of international nuclear safety experts today completed a two-week International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) review of the regulatory framework for nuclear safety in Switzerland.

The Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) mission noted good practices in the Swiss system and also made recommendations for the nation’s nuclear regulatory authority, the Swiss Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate (ENSI).

“Our team developed a good impression of the independent Swiss regulator — ENSI — and the team considered that ENSI deserves particular credit for its actions to improve Swiss safety capability following this year’s nuclear accident in Japan,” said IRRS Team Leader Jean-Christophe Niel of France.

The mission´s scope covered the Swiss nuclear regulatory framework for all types of nuclear-related activities regulated by ENSI. The mission was conducted from 20 November to 2 December, mainly at ENSI headquarters in Brugg. The team held extensive discussions with ENSI staff and visited many Swiss nuclear facilities.

IRRS missions are peer reviews, not inspections or audits, and are conducted at the request of host nations. For the Swiss review, the IAEA assembled a team of 19 international experts from 14 countries. The experts came from Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Republic of Korea, Norway, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

“The findings of the IRRS mission will help us to further improve our work. That is part of our safety culture,” said ENSI Director General Hans Wanner. “As Switzerland argued at international nuclear safety meetings this year for a strengthening of the international monitoring of nuclear power, we will take action to fulfil the recommendations.”

The IRRS team highlighted several good practices of the Swiss regulatory system, including the following:

  • ENSI requires Swiss nuclear operators to back-fit their facilities by continuously upgrading equipment and safety procedures and adopting current technology to maximize nuclear safety;
  • ENSI demonstrates openness and transparency by posting significant documents on its website, including reports on safety research, applicable lessons from foreign nuclear power plants, and safety assessments for all Swiss nuclear power plants; and
  • ENSI’s comprehensive and user friendly management system enables the regulator to work effectively and efficiently to oversee Swiss nuclear safety.

The IRRS team also made recommendations to improve the Swiss regulatory system, including the following:

  • As ENSI was established as an independent regulatory body in 2009 as part of a revised government framework, the Swiss government should actively monitor how this new framework is working and make improvements as needed;
  • ENSI needs the authority to set conditions for licensing nuclear activities and to issue regulatory requirements; and
  • The Swiss regulatory framework should continue evolving its graded approach to safety, and further develop its inspection efforts in all areas, especially in waste, decommissioning and transport.

In a preliminary report, the IAEA has conveyed the team´s main conclusions to ENSI, and a final report will be submitted to the authority in about three months. ENSI has told the team that it will make the report public. The IAEA encourages nations to invite a follow-up IRRS mission about two years after the full mission has been completed.

About IRRS Missions

IRRS missions are designed to strengthen and enhance the effectiveness of the national nuclear regulatory infrastructure of States, while recognizing the ultimate responsibility of each State to ensure safety in this area.

This is done through consideration of both regulatory, technical and policy issues, with comparisons against IAEA safety standards and, where appropriate, good practices elsewhere.

More information about IRRS missions is available on the IAEA Web site: