Petteri Tiippana: Safety and efficiency through international assessments


Editorial in ATS Ydintekniikka 3/2023. Print layout version available here.

PM PETTERI ORPO’S government programme sets ambitious energy policy goals for Finland, which aim to meet emission reduction targets, secure the availability of affordable energy, and enable economic growth, while making Finland bigger than its size in terms of climate policy. The Government’s emphasis is to exploit energy transition and clean technologies, including nuclear power.

On nuclear power, the government programme is unambiguous. According to the Government, more nuclear power is needed in Finland to produce both electricity and district heat. The Government is committed to approving in advance all applications for decision-in-principle that meet the criteria and
to promoting financing solutions for nuclear power projects. Additionally, the government programme highlights the overall reform of the Nuclear Energy Act by 2026. The reform of the law is, among other goals, intended to facilitate the construction of small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs). In addition, the Government wants to examine the possibility of abandoning the tedious decision-in-principle
procedure for small modular reactors.

The nuclear industry and nuclear utilities expect plants to be as similar as possible across countries and for the authorities to use each other’s assessments and inspections to streamline licensing. For similar plants to be acceptable to authorities in different countries, the requirements and their interpretation should be largely the same in each country. In order to make use of the work done by authorities in other countries, the method and content of assessment should be similar. At present, there are differences in both.

International work to achieve these objectives has focused on harmonisation of requirements, in particular within the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) and WENRA (Western European Nuclear Regulators Association). The IAEA Director General’s NHSI project (Nuclear Harmonization and Standardization Initiative) to promote the safe commissioning of SMRs has also focused attention on how to make better use of the work of other countries’ authorities, including ways of sharing information and forms of cooperation. The project has also tried to promote an international pre-certification process, but this has not gained support.

Work to harmonise requirements must continue as well as removing of barriers to information sharing between authorities and efficient pooling of resources. Joint assessments between authorities are, in my opinion, the best and quickest way to promote both objectives and, at the same time, to enable similar facilities to be built in different countries. The national and global effectiveness of joint assessments could be further enhanced by jointly considering and deciding which aspects of the safety design of a facility, whether small or large, should be assessed and how. The advantage of a common safety review framework would be that everyone would know what someone else (individually) or others (collectively) have assessed about a facility. At the same time, the plant suppliers would know what they have to present and demonstrate to the authorities about the safety of their plant, for example at the concept design stage. The work would also result in the identification of differences in safety requirements,
thus giving concrete tools to their harmonisation. STUK has promoted this idea in the NHSI project as well as the EU SMR Pre-Partnership project.

National prerequisites must be created for the success of joint evaluations. In the current legislative and regulatory reform, it is essential to define the safety objectives for the design of an installation and at the same time to leave sufficient space for vendors to implement and for the authorities to assess implementation. In setting safety objectives, we must carefully assess whether there is a need for a “Finland supplement” or whether the IAEA and WENRA safety objectives are sufficient for us. It is important that this issue is discussed constructively between STUK and stakeholders.

Conditions must also be created for participation in joint assessments. In practice, this means organising financing for the work and prioritising the plant alternatives to be assessed according to national interests. Investing in joint assessments will pay off in the form of safe small modular reactors (in Europe and in Finland) and a smooth licensing and safety assessment process when expertise is built up and various plant concepts are well understood.

Petteri Tiippana
Director-general, MSc
Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority