An Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) mission of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) visited South Africa from December 5 to 15. The purpose of the IRRS mission was to examine South Africa’s nuclear regulatory system and compare it with the IAEA’s safety standards and international best practice. The mission, which was hosted by the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR), visited South Africa at the request of the Department of Energy (DoE).
The review was concerned with both the technical and policy aspects, as well as the state of development, of South Africa’s regulatory infrastructure. Ahead of the arrival of the international mission, the NNR assessed itself, against IAEA standards.
“The NNR is fully committed to peer review mechanisms such as the IRRS mission, which is aimed at strengthening regulatory effectiveness for the protection of persons, property and environment against nuclear damage,” affirmed NNR CEO Dr Mzubanzi Bismark Tyobeka. “I look forward to utilising the outcomes and recommendations of this mission to modernise and further improve regulatory effectiveness in South Africa, especially in view of nuclear expansion ambitions of the country.”
The mission was composed of 27 IAEA staff and international experts. It was led by US Nuclear Regulatory Commission senior regulatory expert Victor McCree. In addition to reviewing the various aspects of the country’s regulatory infrastructure, the IRRS team interviewed staff members from the NNR, the Department of Health (DoH) (Radiation Control) and the DoE.
The mission carried out a comprehensive review concerning all facilities and activities making use of nuclear and radiation technologies and which are regulated by the NNR and the Department of Health’s Directorate of Radiation Control. The conclusions of the IRRS mission will help formulate reforms to the country’s regulatory system.
The NNR was set up in 1999 by the National Nuclear Regulator Act. Its core function is to protect people, property and the environment from nuclear damage. It fulfills this function by setting up safety standards and regulatory practices, which are suitable for South Africa. It exercises oversight of the peaceful employment of nuclear energy in the country, and provides the assurance that such use of nuclear energy is done safely and adheres to international best practice and principles.
The Directorate of Radiation Control of the DoH is responsible for the regulation and control of ionising radiation devices (most commonly, X-ray machines), non-ionising radiation devices (such as magnetic resonance imagers and lasers), high-risk and medium-risk electromedical devices, and radioactive materials used in agriculture, commerce, industry, medicine and science. It seeks to ensure the safe use of these technologies and devices. The intent is protection against their known dangers while taking care not to unnecessarily restrict their beneficial use.
The IAEA was set up in 1957 as a result of a suggestion made in 1953 by then US President Dwight D Eisenhower. There were 81 founder-member countries (including South Africa) and the agency’s head office is in Vienna, Austria. Subsequently, it set up regional offices in Toronto, Canada, and Tokyo, Japan. The IAEA also operates three nuclear technology laboratories, two in Austria and one in Monaco.
The IRRS is a service the IAEA provides to member countries, to review technical and policy issues regarding nuclear regulation, as well as examining the development of regulatory infrastructures, compared with IAEA safety standards and international best practices. “The IRRS provides an opportunity for continuous improvement of national regulatory bodies through and integrated process of self-assessment and review,” explained the NNR in a press release. “The mission aims to promote the sharing of international best practices and harmonisation of regulatory approaches. Following the mission, the IAEA provides the host country with a report that contains recommendations.”