Government and nuclear industry officials from African nations must develop independent, effective regulatory agencies as a prerequisite for the safe use of nuclear power, US Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman Allison Macfarlane told a conference in Cape Town.
Ms Macfarlane told the Nuclear Industry Congress Africa 2014 that a nuclear regulator must have the authority to “stop an activity” if it identifies a safety concern, even if it means that a project is delayed. It must be able to shut down a plant that is not operating safely, even if it means a population is “temporarily deprived of electricity”.
To have this authority, a regulator must have the ability to make truly independent safety decisions, with the confidence that those decisions won’t be overturned for political reasons, Ms Macfarlane said. “Put another way, safety and security must be the entire government’s priorities.”
Ms Macfarlane said the benefits of developing new sources of electricity – including a more reliable power grid, increased food safety and economic development – would be more difficult to achieve without effective regulation.
She said the regulatory agency should be in place before important decisions are made on design and location of reactors.
Ms Macfarlane also urged any country considering establishing a nuclear power programme to participate in the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Convention on Nuclear Safety. The Convention provides for “thorough, candid peer reviews” of each country’s nuclear safety activities.
According to the IAEA, the Convention legally commits participating states operating land-based nuclear power plants to maintain a high level of safety by setting “international benchmarks” to which states would subscribe.
The Convention entered into force on 24 October 1996. As of May 2013, there were 76 contracting parties. Ten signatory countries have not yet ratified the Convention, according to the IAEA