Office for Nuclear Regulation

ONR's approach to regulating innovation

Our approach to innovation is centred around supporting the adoption of innovative solutions by the nuclear industry and its supply chain where it is safe and secure to do so.

This includes embracing innovation, new approaches and technologies in how and what we regulate, sharing best practice, and encouraging dialogue by engaging widely to promote awareness and understanding. We plan to achieve this by horizon scanning, knowledge management, inspector development and communications, so that innovation becomes part of ONR’s culture and not just something that is added on to our work.

We are open to innovation and throughout 2022-23 are piloting new products that make innovation possible where it is in the interest of society and is consistent with safety and security expectations.

As an enabling regulator, we recognise that we have an important role to play in minimising regulatory uncertainty and burden around innovation. Building on our enabling philosophy, we intend to regulate using practices and behaviours that embrace a diversity of new approaches.

We recognise that there is a need for regulators, licensees and supply chain organisations to be open minded to the opportunities that innovative approaches can bring. A significant part of this is to build on our existing work around enabling regulation to develop our innovation capability and ensure we are open-minded to novel approaches.

We will achieve this through a collaborative work programme, supporting inspectors when they are faced with innovative approaches.

What do we mean by innovation?

We consider innovation as “the implementation of new ideas that generate value”. However, innovation includes responding to stakeholder needs and often builds on previous work rather than reinventing truly new ideas or products.

Innovation is not limited to products and can include new ways of working and new services. The principal benefit is that it returns a value to all stakeholders.

Supporting the adoption of innovative solutions by the nuclear industry and its supply chain

We have developed an approach (see figure below) to make sure our arrangements are fit-for-purpose to assess innovation in the future.

Arrangements to assess innovation

The three products we are piloting during 2022/23 will be available to licensees, dutyholders and requesting parties and their supply chain companies where they are supported by the licensee, dutyholder and requesting party. They include:

Any collaborative activity in the innovation hub must centre on developing relevant good practice (RGP) (i.e. establishing pragmatic benchmarks to enable robust regulatory decision making) and not undertake an assessment of a specific application of an innovation. To allow us to retain our regulatory independence, we have put arrangements in place to ensure that individuals who carry out the assessment have sufficient independence from those engaged in the collaborative activities associated with the innovation hub.

Case studies in innovation

Expert panel – Regulation of artificial intelligence in nuclear

March 2022

As part of our pledge to embrace innovation, we hosted an expert panel with Advanced Nuclear Skills and Innovation Campus (ANSIC) to discuss the opportunities for the regulation of artificial intelligence (AI) in the nuclear industry

The discussion focused on proportionate regulation of artificial intelligence in nuclear, where it is in the interest of society and beneficial to the industry’s safety and security. AI could be used in the nuclear industry to simulate behaviour of reactors, inform reactor design, performance, safety, and operation. So, having a clear regulatory approach is important.

The panel was made up of experts from the nuclear, medicine and healthcare, and fusion, national laboratories and academia. Despite the differences between sectors, we were reassured to see that we all face similar challenges. More than half of those who attended said their view on the regulation of AI had changed thanks to learning from the session.

The collaborative work will continue by taking a selection of examples of the application of AI into the regulatory sandbox. The regulatory sandbox allows us to work collaboratively with innovators to test and trial new approaches in a safe environment to develop a pragmatic and robust set of regulatory benchmarks.