Office for Nuclear Regulation

IAEA Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) missions to the United Kingdom

IAEA's Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS)

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) establishes and globally promotes the application of its safety and security standards, and one method of doing this is through making available peer review services to its member states.  One of these is the Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) which is aimed at enhancing the effectiveness of a state’s regulatory infrastructure for nuclear, radiation, radioactive waste and transport safety.

An IRRS team comprises technical experts drawn from member states and IAEA personnel.  It evaluates a state’s governmental, legal and regulatory infrastructure for safety, and the practical arrangements for regulating its nuclear facilities and activities, against the relevant IAEA safety standards.  The review is not an inspection to determine compliance, but is more an objective comparison of national nuclear regulation with international guidelines.  It makes findings that member states act upon with the aim of enhancing their regulatory effectiveness.  It also identifies good practices which may be shared internationally.

The UK is a strong proponent of the IRRS and invited its first mission in 2006, which focused particularly on ONR’s preparations for regulating new reactor build.  Subsequently, IRRS missions were conducted in 2009 and 2013 to review new areas and to follow-up on findings from previous missions.  The IRRS uses a modular approach and most of the modules were reviewed over the course of the three missions.  Then, in 2014, an Expert Mission visited ONR to review progress made in addressing the open findings from previous IRRS missions. The IAEA’s final reports on these four missions are available below.

To meet its international obligations to periodically undertake peer reviews, the UK Government has formally invited the IAEA to conduct a full-scope IRRS mission in October 2019.  ONR will host and coordinate the mission, which will also involve other organisations such as; the environment agencies, Health & Safety Executive, Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, as well as government officials.

2014 mission

The Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) was commended by international experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) following an expert mission in November 2014.

ONR, in collaboration with the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), requested the IAEA to carry out a progress review mission to the UK, following on from the series of Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) missions in 2006, 2009 and 2013. This was the first time a member state has requested assessment against findings within a year of a peer review mission, demonstrating the UK and ONR's commitment to continuously improving its regulatory framework.

The mission was part of a special project to address the 26 findings that existed from the previous IRRS mission in October 2013, with the aim to review ONR's progress. The team reviewed comprehensive evidence and met with several members of staff, to conclude that 21 out of 26 of the findings could be closed. Furthermore, all 12 findings relating specifically to radioactive waste and decommissioning were closed based on evidence or progress made and confidence of the full implementation.

The five remaining findings relate to longer term programmes of work, including findings on the ONR management system and the review of licence conditions. ONR received positive feedback on progress made to date and existing forward plans.

In the final report from the 2014 mission the IAEA team commends:

  • the extent of progress made since 2013 demonstrating the continuous effort to improve;
  • the UK and ONR's commitment to high standards of nuclear safety and the benefits of the IRRS process.

The next full scope IRRS mission for the UK is anticipated in 2019 to meet expectations set out in the European Union Nuclear Safety Directive.

2013 mission

The IRRS completed its third mission on 9 October 2013. In addition to reviewing the findings from 2006 and 2009, the mission assessed the nuclear safety themes that were not within the scope of the previous missions including; waste management; decommissioning; radioactive sources; radiation protection and lessons from Fukushima. Reviewing these final modules ensured that ONR has received a full scope mission. The IRRS reviewers also assessed compliance with IAEA's relevant standards and guides, overarching themes included: independence; funding/resource; resilience; competence and integration.

The mission involved an introductory meeting, with high level presentations given to the IRRS team by IAEA, DWP, DECC and ONR. The rest of the mission consisted of information and evidence gathering by holding interviews with ONR technical staff, observation of inspection activities at licensed sites, and interviews with UK nuclear and radiation safety stakeholders.

In the final report from the 2013 mission, the IAEA team commends:

  • the systematic way in which ONR has taken into account the 2006 and 2009 recommendations and suggestions
  • the significant progress and improvements made in many areas, such as how ONR engages with licensees, assesses emergency preparedness and response capability, and ONR's regulatory guidance

This has meant that 31 out of the 32 recommendations and suggestions made in 2009 were fully addressed and therefore considered as closed which is a strong follow up position. The Report also explicitly highlights six areas in which the IAEA consider that ONR delivers Good Practice. The review team identified 25 new findings (13 recommendations and 12 suggestions) relating to two main themes:

  • responsibilities and Functions of ONR (including organisational capability, communications and training)
  • supervision of non-nuclear power plant facilities (including regulation of radioactive sources, radioactive waste streams and decommissioning)

ONR has accepted these as an opportunity to further enhance the regulatory framework and processes, and a detailed ONR programme of work is underway to address them. The IAEA has accepted a proposal from ONR to review progress against the 2013 findings, later in 2014 in order to help further reinforce stakeholder confidence.

The next full scope IRRS mission for the UK is anticipated in 2019 to meet expectations set out in the European Union Nuclear Safety Directive.

IAEA expert mission - November 2014

The IAEA has accepted a proposal from ONR to review progress against the findings identified during the 2013 IRRS mission. This demonstrates our commitment to continuously improve our regulatory framework and processes through engagement with the IAEA.

A review team consisting of six international experts will visit ONR in early November to meet with a broad range of staff to discuss progress over a year since the last mission, before reporting back to ONR at the Exit Meeting on the final day of the mission. More information will be publicised on our news centre.

2009 mission

The IAEA completed its second IRRS mission in October 2009. During this visit a team of ten international experts reviewed HSE's Nuclear Directorate's (ND) progress since the first mission looking at; recent regulatory developments; the regulation of operating power plants; fuel cycle facilities and reviewed additional areas of regulatory activity. The areas reviewed included; inspection and enforcement; emergency preparedness and response; and the proposed transition arrangements to move ND to be a more autonomous body.

The IAEA team concluded that ND had taken initiatives to address the findings from the first IRRS mission in 2006 and areas where improvement options were identified from ND's self-assessment against IAEA standards. The report included many statements supporting the UK's approach to nuclear regulation. IAEA found that ND had made progress to improve effectiveness in regulating existing nuclear installations and in preparing to license new nuclear reactors. Many findings identified in the 2006 report were fully addressed and therefore considered as closed. Other findings which remained were addressed in accordance with a programme of work presented to the IRRS team. The second report also included a number of new recommendations to help strengthen the UK regulatory body.

The IRRS supported ONR's approach to transition to becoming an independent body. The report also highlighted a number of important principles that needed to be taken account of during and after the transition, including; adequate legal authority; effective independence; technical and managerial competence; and, human and financial resources to fulfil all regulatory responsibilities and functions.

2006 mission

With a team of six international experts, the IAEA completed its first visit in April 2006. The mission reviewed HSE's Nuclear Safety Directorate's readiness to assess a new generation of nuclear power stations, should the option be taken up. The IAEA's final report, which helped inform the government's review of its energy policy, noted a mature and transparent regulatory system and advanced review process, backed up by highly trained, expert and experienced nuclear inspectors.