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Brussels, 26 November 2008

Nuclear Safety Directive

What is the Convention on Nuclear Safety

This Convention[1] was adopted in June 1994 by a Diplomatic Conference convened by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as a follow-up of the Chernobyl accident. Together with some other conventions, it defines the international framework of nuclear safety set up by the IAEA. All EU Member States as well as the Euratom Community are contracting parties to this convention.

The main Convention objectives are:

  • to establish a high level of nuclear safety worldwide and effective defences against radiological hazards in nuclear installations;
  • to prevent radiological accidents.

The Convention is a voluntary mechanism. It defines the respective roles of States, regulators and holders of licence to exploit a nuclear power plant. It also establishes that safety of installations takes precedence over any other consideration.

Contracting parties have agreed to:

  • a number of "obligations", e.g. to establish an appropriate legal and regulatory framework for safety;
  • communicate their competences in a certain number of areas, e.g. emergency preparedness, siting of a nuclear installation, the design, construction and operation of nuclear installations.

In addition, contracting parties are subject every three years to "peer-review" meetings where they present and discuss improvements to the safety situation of their installations.

It is important to note that information reporting is voluntary and that no enforcement follow-up is possible. IAEA is considering moving to more constraining measures.

What are IAEA Safety Fundamentals?

These fundamentals[2] have been prepared on the basis of three previous Safety Fundamentals texts, covering the areas of the safety of nuclear installations, of the safety of radioactive waste management and of radiation protection and safety of radiation sources. The aim was to combine them in a unified set of principles representing a common safety philosophy across all areas of application of the IAEA safety standards. The text was approved by the IAEA Board of Governors and published in September 2006.

The IAEA safety standards, comprising Safety Fundamentals, Safety Requirements and Safety Guides, are binding on the IAEA for its own operations. They are applied by other sponsoring organizations for their own operations and are recommended for use by States and national authorities in relation to their own activities.

The underlying safety objective is to protect people and the environment from harmful effects of ionizing radiation.

Ten safety principles are set up (e.g. responsibility for safety, role of government, leadership and management for safety). They constitute the basis on which to establish safety requirements for protection against exposure to ionizing radiation under the IAEA’s safety standards programme and provide the rationale for its wider safety related programme.

The safety objective and the ten safety principles provide the grounds for establishing requirements and measures for the protection of people and the environment against radiation risks and for the safety of facilities and activities that give rise to radiation risks. These include, in particular, nuclear installations and uses of radiation and radioactive sources for peaceful purposes, the associated transport of radioactive material, and the management of radioactive waste.

The ten principles cover:

  1. Responsibility for safety – The prime responsibility for safety must rest with the person or organisation responsible for facilities and activities that give rise to radiation risks. A similar provision is included in Article 9 of the Convention on Nuclear Safety (CNS) and has also been regulated in Article 3 of the draft Nuclear Safety Directive.
  2. Role of government – An effective legal and governmental framework for safety, including an independent regulatory body, must be established and sustained. Similar provisions are included in Article 7 and 8 of the CNS and have also been regulated in Article 3 and 4 of the draft Nuclear Safety Directive.
  3. Leadership and management for safety - Effective leadership and management for safety must be established and sustained in organizations concerned with, and facilities and activities that give rise to, radiation risks. Similar provisions are included in Article 13 and 14 of the CNS and have also been regulated in Article 6 and 7 of the draft Nuclear Safety Directive.
  4. Justification of facilities and activities - Facilities and activities that give rise to radiation risks must yield an overall benefit.
  5. Optimization of protection - Protection must be optimized to provide the highest level of safety that can reasonably be achieved.
  6. Limitation of risks to individuals - Measures for controlling radiation risks must ensure that no individual bears an unacceptable risk of harm.
  7. Protection of present and future generations - People and the environment, present and future, must be protected against radiation risks.
  8. Prevention of accidents - All practical efforts must be made to prevent and mitigate nuclear or radiation accidents.
  9. Emergency preparedness and response - Arrangements must be made for emergency preparedness and response for nuclear or radiation incidents.
  10. Protective actions to reduce existing or unregulated radiation risks - Protective actions to reduce existing or unregulated radiation risks must be justified and optimized.

What is WENRA?

WENRA was created in 1999 as an organization comprising the Heads and senior staff of Nuclear Regulatory Authorities from European countries with nuclear power plants (17 countries). Its original objective was to provide an independent capability to examine nuclear safety in the 2004 and 2007 enlargement countries.

In order to harmonise safety approaches, two working groups were launched, dealing with reactor harmonization and waste and decommissioning.

In January 2006, reports on reactor safety reference levels were published and subsequently revised in 2007 and 2008[3]. WENRA members have agreed to fully implement these reference levels by 2010.

The set of Reference Levels was developed on the basis of the most recent IAEA safety standards (amended as needed with elements from national regulations). They cover 18 safety issues where differences were observed. They refer to the following 5 safety areas:

  • Safety Management,
  • Design,
  • Operation,
  • Safety Verification,
  • Emergency Preparedness.

The Reference Levels focus essentially on regulatory requirements for licensees covering:

  • Design and operation of existing NPPs safety,
  • Deterministic, probabilistic, management and safety culture aspects.

The Reference Levels are not covering:

  • Radiation protection,
  • Physical protection,
  • Regulatory practices,
  • Design of new builds.

The work of WENRA contributed to lay the foundations for the future harmonisation of nuclear safety approaches throughout the EU.

[1] Available on the IAEA website (

[2] Available on the IAEA website


[3] Available on the WENRA website (

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