South Africa’s National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) CEO, Dr Bismark Tyobeka, has been appointed chairperson of the Regulatory Cooperation Forum (RCF) of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the NNR announced late last month. The appointment was decided at the annual RCF steering committee meeting in Brussels, Belgium, which took place from June 13 to June 15. Tyobeka had previously (from 2014) been vice chairperson of the RCF.
In its press release, the NNR noted that his previous position as vice chairperson was one of the reasons Tyobeka was appointed chairperson. This ensured continuity in the work of the forum.
“Delivering on our long-standing commitment towards achieving and sustaining a high level of nuclear safety to support socio- economic progress will always be our key focus,” affirmed Tyobeka. “To chair the RCF is truly a reflection of the international nuclear community’s confidence in South Africa’s commitment to enhancing the development of nuclear safety regulatory infrastructure of regulators from new and existing nuclear countries.”
The RCF was actually established in South Africa, at the second IAEA Conference on Effective Regulatory Systems in Cape Town in December 2009. It is composed of nuclear regulators and encourages the exchange of regulatory experience and knowledge by means of international collaboration and cooperation. Its basis is provided by the IAEA’s safety standards. Its membership includes countries with long-established and large nuclear power programmes, countries with smaller such programmes which are considering expanding their nuclear energy capacities, and countries starting nuclear power programmes.
The RCF has three main objectives. The first is to facilitate cooperation and collaboration among its own members, to enhance the coordination of support for the development of regulatory infrastructures. The second is to assist in the establishment and maintenance of high nuclear safety levels, in line with IAEA safety standards and guidance. The third objective is to seek resource optimisation among RCF members, achieve enhanced coordination and so avoid unnecessary duplication.
The NNR was created by the National Nuclear Regulator Act of 1999. Its central mission is to protect people, property and the environment from nuclear damage by creating and maintaining regulatory practices and safety standards that are optimised for South Africa and in line with international principles and best practices. “To this end, the NNR provides oversight and assurance that activities related to the peaceful use of nuclear energy in South Africa are carried out in a safe manner and in accordance with international principles and best practices,” affirmed the regulator in its press release.
South Africa is a founder member of the IAEA, which was set up in 1957. Today, the IAEA has 171 member States, of which 35 form the board, South African being one of the permanent members. The objective of the IAEA, in the words of its statute, is: “To seek to accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy to peace, health and prosperity throughout the world. It shall ensure, so far as it is able, that assistance provided by it or at its request or under its supervision or control is not used in such a way as to further any military purpose.”
The agency has seven main functions. These include promoting and helping peaceful atomic energy research and development worldwide; to facilitate scientific and technological information exchange regarding nuclear energy; to promote the training and exchange of scientists and other experts working in the field of peaceful nuclear energy; to set up and administer security and safeguards for nuclear materials and facilities; and for the protection of health, life and property, in cooperation (where applicable) with other agencies.
“South Africa, like the rest of the world, is facing economic, social and environmental challenges,” pointed out Tyobeka. “These challenges are further compounded by the increasing demand for clean, safe and reliable energy. Such demand is taking place amid heightened sociopolitical tensions, but we will all have to remain focused on the roles we have to play in creating a better future for the world.”