Belarus maintains international cooperation in the field of nuclear and radiation safety regulation in bilateral and multilateral formats. Belarus and the IAEA signed a cooperation framework until 2027. An exchange of experience with regulatory authorities of other countries has also been established. BelTA talked to representatives of Gosatomnadzor - Head of the International Cooperation Department Natalya Danilenko and consultant Oleg Sobolev – to learn more about the developments Belarus is interested in, the experience it shares at international venues, the achievements and further plans.
Interaction with the IAEA
What plans does Gosatomnadzor have in terms of cooperation with the IAEA?
Natalya Danilenko: As a follow-up to the cooperation framework until 2027, we have prepared a proposal for a new project of the International Atomic Energy Agency for the next cycle, which will begin in 2024. The project is designed for four years. It contains a large set of measures and covers different areas of regulatory activity. Therefore, such a long period of implementation seems appropriate to us.
Work on the new project began in 2022. We presented the concept, the International Atomic Energy Agency accepted and approved it. The project proposal has been developed and has already been uploaded to the IAEA platform. Now we are waiting for expert comments.
What is the essence of the new project?
Natalya Danilenko: It is focused on obtaining expert support from the IAEA at a new stage of the nuclear energy program, after the completion of the construction of the nuclear power plant. Through the IAEA, the project will cover supervisory activities, radioactive waste and spent fuel management, improvement of the integrated management system and safety culture, emergency preparedness and response, and other things. Part of the project activities is directly related to the activities of the regulatory body, the other is focused on expanding the capabilities and development of our technical support system. The coordinator of this system is the Center for Nuclear and Radiation Safety. The project activities are aimed at the development of the center and provision of expert assistance in its work. In addition, the project provides for the supply of equipment.
Oleg Sobolev: I would like to draw your attention to the fact that the framework program of cooperation with the IAEA applies not only to Gosatomnadzor. This work involves the Emergencies Ministry, the Energy Ministry, and the Healthcare Ministry. Belhydromet also participates in the work with the IAEA. So the program provides for a whole range of support from the International Atomic Energy Agency. By the way, this is not the first framework program of cooperation between Belarus and the IAEA. There were similar programs before.
What is the status of cooperation with IAEA experts? Are meetings planned in the near future?
Natalya Danilenko: A number of seminars and expert missions are planned for the next year. At the end of January, we will hold an event on the topic of a differentiated approach in supervisory activities, in February - on the development of the safety culture in the regulatory body.
Oleg Sobolev: This is a point-by-point work of two or three IAEA experts with our specialists on a specific topic. I would like to add that they should be distinguished from assessment missions. The last major mission was in December 2021 – the IAEA's Comprehensive Nuclear and Radiation Safety Regulatory Infrastructure Assessment (IRRS) post-mission. Representatives of the IAEA noted that Belarus accepted all the assessment missions of the agency recommended to the newcomer country. This does not mean that there will be no more major assessment missions. If such a need arises, we will invite a mission on a specific issue.
Participation in Atomexpo
This year, after a long hiatus due to the pandemic, the Atomexpo International Forum was held in Sochi. A Belarusian delegation took part in it. What experience of foreign partners was of interest to Belarus and what did you share in response?
Natalya Danilenko: The Belarusian delegation included Gosatomnadzor and technical support organizations, including the Nuclear and Radiation Safety Center, the Lykov Heat and Mass Transfer Institute of the National Academy of Sciences, the Joint Institute for Power and Nuclear Research – Sosny of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute for Nuclear Problems of Belarusian State University.
Gosatomnadzor took part in two round-table meetings at the forum: “Harmonization of the Licensing Process: Utopia or Reality” and “Nuclear Legacy Objects: Experience and Cooperation Prospects”. We presented our best practices in these fields. At the request of the organizers, Gosatomnadzor chief Olga Lugovskaya acted as a moderator. Participants of the first round-table meeting discussed adaptation of the licensing mechanisms for power units of nuclear power plants in nuclear newcomer countries, phased licensing of the construction and commissioning of power units, interaction of the Belarusian nuclear safety watchdog with organizations from the Russian Federation that acts as a supplier of nuclear technologies. The second round-table meeting focused on the elimination of nuclear legacy in the CIS countries, cooperation programs, new promising technologies for nuclear legacy projects. The Belarusian delegation presented its vision of the issue. In this regard, Polessky Radiation and Ecological Reserve can be considered as a nuclear legacy object as this territory was contaminated as a result of the Chernobyl nuclear accident.
A number of bilateral meetings with representatives of Russia's Federal Service for Environmental, Technological and Nuclear Supervision (Rostekhnadzor) and Rusatom Service were held on the sidelines of the forum. They parties discussed promotion of a safety culture, scientific and technical support infrastructure, and a program of joint action of Belarus and Russia on nuclear and radiation safety issues.
Interest in Belarusian experience abroad
How useful is the Belarusian experience for nuclear newcomer countries?
Natalya Danilenko: There is a lot of interest in our experience. Our experts get an increasing number of invitations through the IAEA to speak at various events. For example, in October this year, the IAEA held a national workshop for the Egyptian regulatory body. This country has launched its first nuclear power program. Speakers at the workshop shared the details of conducting and hosting a mission on a comprehensive assessment of the regulatory infrastructure and explained all the aspects of such missions: how to prepare for them, how to deal with logistics matters, how the information is processed and findings are made and how a country can benefit from hosting such a mission. The seminar was attended by experts from South Africa, Pakistan and Belarus. For our part, we shared our experience on various aspects of the preparation and conduct of the IRRS mission and the IRRS follow-up mission.
In addition, Gosatomnadzor is participating in the development of the Safety Guide of the IAEA. It provides recommendations on the establishment of a framework for safety in accordance with the IAEA safety standards for states deciding on and preparing to embark on a nuclear power program. This guide will make part of the IAE Safety Standards Series. These guides help nuclear newcomer countries to figure out what steps to take, especially at the very beginning of the nuclear program.
Recently, African countries have shown interest in our experience in creating a regulatory infrastructure. So, at the end of May, at the invitation of the African Commission on Nuclear Energy (AFCONE), Gosatomnadzor took part in a seminar to discuss interaction between the nuclear industry and regulatory bodies in nuclear newcomer countries. In addition, at the request of the Nigerian regulator, preparations are underway for the signing of a bilateral memorandum of understanding.
Oleg Sobolev: Foreign counterparts began to show interest in our practices not when our own nuclear power plant was launched, but much earlier. When the NPP construction was just starting, delegations from various countries wanted to visit the BelNPP site to see how supervision and regulation are exercised at the construction stage. Among those interested were Egypt, Bangladesh, Vietnam. Later on, we hosted experts from Türkiye.
However, it is not only the newcomer countries that are interested in our experience. An agreement has been concluded between the Belarusian and Hungarian regulatory authorities. Hungary operates VVER-440 power units of Paks NPP built in the 1980s. It is an experienced country. Hungary has launched the construction of two new VVER-1200 power units of the same type that we have built. We were very interested in their experience in supervising the nuclear power plant, while they were interested in learning what to pay attention to during the supervision of different stages of construction, as well as the licensing of the VVER-1200 project.
One of the topics under discussion today is the management of spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste. How is international cooperation in this field, primarily with Russia?
Oleg Sobolev: Let me remind you why we are very closely involved in this issue. Last year a presidential decree was passed that clarified the state authorities and their functions in radioactive waste management. In particular, Gosatomnadzor is a regulatory authority in nuclear and radiation safety. Under the decree we are entrusted to perform management functions in radioactive waste management. Plans are in place to introduce a national operator in the country. This organization will be set up within the Energy Ministry system.
There is one more reason for our intensive work in this area. It is associated with the operation of the Belarusian nuclear power plant. From the moment the plant began operating, it started generating waste. Radioactive waste was produced in Belarus before: in medicine, industry. However their volume is not comparable to the volume of waste from the BelNPP. The Belarusian nuclear power plant has appropriate capacities to store the generated waste within 10 years. Then they must be transferred for burial. In 10 years, we must have a storage facility for the waste from BelNPP.
This is why our cooperation with the Russian Federation has become more intensive; we have regular contacts. Our specialists visit them, and they come to Minsk and share their experience and expertise. Russia's best practices were used to draft a radioactive waste management strategy. The document was publicly discussed, and anyone could send their comments, remarks, and suggestions. The strategy specifies neither technology, nor the location of the storage facility, but it defines the principles of how this will be done, including the main stages of work.
With whom do you cooperate in personnel training and professional development?
Oleg Sobolev: Here we have several tools. There is a state program. Russia as a nuclear technology supplier is always ready to share its best practices and expertise. The International Atomic Energy Agency gives such opportunities as well.
Gosatomnadzor's young scientists have recently had a one-week online training at Rosatom Technical Academy. We also have opportunities for our specialists to improve their competencies with Rostekhnadzor and its technical support organizations. We are interested in their regulatory experience.
IAEA projects are of course worth mentioning. There are capacity-building events at the International Atomic Energy Agency, but very often the IAEA acts as an intermediary. With the agency's help, we determine which countries have the expertise we need and where to send our workers to improve their knowledge and hone their skills.
Natalya Danilenko: Two main tools are used in work with the International Atomic Energy Agency. It is our national project, which we form and identify right away what steps we need, what visits, internships, seminars or pinpoint expert missions. The second variant is regional projects of the International Atomic Energy Agency and individual topical events. Via official channels the IAEA sends us information about an upcoming event and a full description of the event. And we can show up for it, participate in seminars, conferences, and internships.
Oleg Sobolev: Not only educational events but on the whole, the sharing of the best practices with other countries help us improve our competences. The Belarusian regulatory body has signed about 20 bilateral agreements on cooperation. Apart from that, we participate in international associations of regulatory bodies. Those include, for instance, the Forum of the State Nuclear Safety Authorities of the Countries Operating WWER Type Reactors (WWER Forum). Foreign colleagues are interested in our state of affairs, in how we grow, but we also learn a lot of valuable lessons from this cooperation.
It does not matter how high the level of safety you have secured. The work to further improve safety must never stop. The International Atomic Energy Agency promotes this principle and all countries with a nuclear energy industry share it. This is why the exchange of the best practices in the bilateral and multilateral formats is so important. One can always learn something new, can always share something, can always borrow some practice.
Natalya Danilenko: Sharing the best practices within the framework of multilateral forums is very valuable. This is why Gosatomnadzor initiated the creation of a similar industry-specific association in the Commonwealth of Independent States, to be exact, the council of executive representatives of safe nuclear energy usage regulation bodies of the CIS member states. This body was established very recently. It started operating in 2022. A regular session of the council took place in Bishkek in early November. The schedule for the next year is being worked out now. It is supposed to feature a broad range of events relating to regulatory activities.
How is bilateral cooperation organized?
Natalya Danilenko: We have agreements of different levels. They can be divided into three groups: intergovernmental agreements, interagency agreements (that is, between regulatory bodies) and agreements with technical support organizations. At the intergovernmental level these are agreements on matters of prompt notification about a nuclear accident, on information exchange, and cooperation in the field of nuclear and radiation safety. Such agreements have been concluded with our neighboring countries. Agreements between regulatory bodies mainly provide for sharing the best practices in various areas of regulatory activity. In general, bilateral cooperation has been established with 17 countries within the framework of cooperation with regulatory bodies. Cooperation with the Russian Federation is advancing most actively.
Can you tell us about plans for 2023? What are your main areas of work? What meetings have been scheduled?
Natalya Danilenko: A very important event within the framework of the Convention on Nuclear Safety will take place in March. It will be a meeting of the negotiating parties where Belarus will have to defend the next national report. This report has already been prepared. Other countries did the same. We have compiled a list of questions concerning reports of other countries, received questions from them and are now preparing answers. There are a lot of questions concerning our national report - 160.
Oleg Sobolev: Questions were received from different countries, but traditionally most of all from Lithuania. By the way, the importance of this event, which will be held at the IAEA premises in Vienna, is underlined by the fact that it will combine the 8th and 9th meetings of the negotiating parties (the eighth one was cancelled due to the pandemic). The implementation of obligations by countries within the framework of the convention over a period of six years will be reviewed during this event. In the near future working meetings will be held with our partners, during which we intend to discuss the filling of bilateral agreements with specific measures. Traditionally we expect that the plan on Belarus' cooperation with Russia, the country that supplies nuclear technologies, will be the most intensive one.