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UK regulator identifies 11 proposals for research

21 June 2017

The ONR is the public body set up under the Energy Act 2013 as the independent, statutory regulator of nuclear safety, nuclear security, and conventional health and safety at nuclear sites. The Act enables ONR to carry out or commission research in connection with its purposes and supports delivery of its vision of being an exemplary regulator, it notes in the report.

Of the 53 it identified, 11 proposals for action this financial year amounted to expenditure of £500,000. A further £48,000 was allocated for attendance and participation in research activities, such as conferences, seminars and other related engagements, together with membership subscriptions for various research topic groups. In previous years, ONR's structural integrity specialism - particularly its graphite research program - was managed as a separate research activity. For 2016-17 this activity has been merged with its wider regulatory research.

ONR's research objectives are contained in its research strategy published in August 2015. This states that ONR will use research to support its independent regulatory decision-making, based on objective scientific and technical understanding of the safety issues. The main objectives of the strategy are to ensure that ONR's inspectors form their regulatory judgements "confidently and effectively using sound, up-to-date scientific and technical information".

Potential research needs and opportunities, to achieve ONR's objectives, are identified through its 15 specialisms, including: fault analysis; human and organisational capability; mechanical engineering; radioactive waste/nuclear liabilities; radiation protection and criticality; process and chemical engineering; security; and structural integrity.

Research proposals pass through a selection procedure, utilising defined principles and criteria to screen and prioritise our research proposals and check they are aligned with ONR's strategy. Research proposals carried forward are "translated into specifications" and then discussed with ONR's stakeholders, for example, the environment agencies, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, the wider nuclear industry and key research providers.

This "seeks to deliver maximum value" from its research activities, ensures duplication of work is avoided and promotes the sharing of good practice as widely as possible, it said. Research proposals that have successfully progressed through this process are added to the Regulatory Research Register.

Changing landscape

In the 2016-2017 report, the ONR says the nuclear landscape is "changing rapidly", with the nuclear industry poised to expand as plans to design and build several new nuclear power stations and emergent small modular reactor technology develop. With this changing landscape it is important that ONR positions itself to ensure it can adequately meet the challenges, it added.

Research plays a critical role in its understanding of a wide range of complex, often unique challenges, it said. Its research needs differ from many organisations in that they support its independent regulatory decision making and ensure its regulatory processes remain robust, it said. This needs to be based on objective scientific and technical understanding of the safety and security issues that may arise, it added.

Anthony Hart, director of ONR's Technical Division, a role which encompasses ONR's research portfolio, said the annual report includes case studies that "show how our research strategy has helped support ONR's enabling regulatory approach, in addition to informing the development of relevant good practice".

The first case study, 'radiation protection risks arising from using non air-fed suits', gained the following "safety intelligence", it said: use heart rate monitors with alarms; only ask workers to undertake one entry per day to allow sufficient resting time; ensure good hydration and rehydration is available; tight controls warranted over non air-fed suit activities when using non permeable PVC suits in high temperature environments.

The second, 'graphite core ageing', recommends: identification of inherent uncertainties which are present in predictions of graphite core ageing; advice to ONR in determining whether the licensee has made reasonable assumptions and appropriately accounted for uncertainty in its predictive models of graphite core behaviour; and advice to ONR in determining whether the limits and margins within the licensee's graphite core safety case are adequate to support continued safe operation.

The third, 'prediction of pressurised water reactor fuel behaviour in faults', states that "it is now feasible to better quantify the uncertainty in critical heat flux for boiling conditions, though further research is needed to do this with precision for dryout". The ONR now has "an enhanced objective basis" for critical assessment of the safety cases for PWR type stations, it said.

The ONR's research evaluation process is still to be finalised, it said, but it is developing a strategy in which it reviews the regulatory impact and value for money when its projects are completed.

"As we enter a new financial year, our research team will continue to identity ONR's needs to ensure that we are equipped to meet the regulatory challenges arising from the evolving nuclear industry. This will include reviewing our strategy and identifying areas that are framed around innovation and technology," it said.

11 actions

A spokesman for ONR told World Nuclear News yesterday that, following discussions with licensees and stakeholders, it had "confirmed the industry were already funding most of the identified work" and thus of the 53 proposals, ONR had identified 11 for action.

"These were mainly across Fault Studies (Internal Hazards and Fuel and Core), Chemistry, Structural Integrity and Radiological Protection specialisms," he said. "Since then, three projects have now been completed and findings published. Five are live ongoing contracts or memberships of coordinated research programs”.

These are:

  • RRR-018 - THAI 3 (OECD-NEA program to further investigate issues specific for Water Cooled Reactors under severe accident conditions: fission product behaviour, hydrogen mitigation and combustion);
  • RRR-019 - STEM 2 (OECD-NEA program on Iodine Chemistry in Reactor Accidents);
  • RRR-027 - NDT Research on Structural Integrity;
  • RRR-023 - Use of Burn-Up Credit (BUC) to Improve Assessment of Criticality Risk;
  • RRR-053 - Research to provide support to ONR in Nuclear Graphite Structural Integrity.

Three were deferred and will now be undertaken in 2017-18.

These are: RRR-011 - Oil Mist Explosions; RRR-021 - Research into Board Performance, Corporate Governance relevant Good Practice and Impact on Nuclear Safety; and RRR-023 - Review of Methods and Products either in use or having potential for use within the Nuclear Industry for Asset Management of Long Term Decommissioned Facilities or Equipment Exposed to Severe Environmental Conditions.

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