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Case study 1: Integrated Regulatory Review Service mission to Australia

Between 5 to 16 November 2018, Australia received an international team of experts to perform a peer review of Australia’s regulatory frameworks for nuclear and radiation safety. This mission, the Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS), was conducted at ARPANSA’s premises in Yallambie (Melbourne, Victoria) and involved staff from across the agency.

The review considered the regulatory framework for radiation protection and nuclear safety of the Commonwealth of Australia, and corresponding arrangements in the States and Territories. ARPANSA undertook a full scope mission, and completed all IRRS modules, including information that relates to the safety of nuclear installations. State and territory regulators completed specific modules on authorisation, inspection, review and assessment, enforcement, regulation of sources, regulation of medical radiation, and transport.

The review compared the Australian regulatory framework for safety against International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safety standards as the international benchmark for safety. This was the first IRRS mission to undertake a comprehensive multi-jurisdictional review of a federated country in which all of the jurisdictions are self-governing.

The IRRS team consisted of 15 senior regulatory experts from 13 IAEA Member States, three IAEA staff members and two observers from Singapore's National Environment Agency.

The IRRS mission praised Australia for involving all nine radiation protection regulators, and identified this as a good practice by the team and a model that other federal countries may want to consider when planning for future IRRS missions. The IRRS team observed a high level of engagement by participants from the Commonwealth, states and territories, demonstrating a strong commitment to continuous improvement in nuclear and radiation safety.

The IRRS mission Final Report was published on 13 February 2019. It contains 23 recommendations and 12 suggestions for improvement.

In the report, good practices identified by the IRRS team included:

  • the availability of comprehensive guidance for radiation protection in existing exposure situations
  • ARPANSA’s succession planning for all positions
  • ARPANSA’s holistic integration of risks in the management processes.

The IRRS team made recommendations and suggestions that indicate where improvements are necessary or desirable to continue enhancing the effectiveness of regulatory functions in line with IAEA safety standards. Recommendations included asking the Australian Government to address the decommissioning of facilities and radioactive waste management, and ARPANSA to establish criteria to evaluate the effectiveness of licensee’s emergency exercises.

The IRRS report stated that the most significant challenge to Australia is establishing a national framework for radiation safety that assures a consistent level of safety and protection of people and the environment across all jurisdictions, in principle and in practice. Many of the recommendations and suggestions were addressed to all nine jurisdictions to assist in improving uniformity in radiation protection.

Australia is developing a comprehensive action plan to track progress of implementation of the recommendations and suggestions. An IRRS follow-up mission is scheduled for 2021–22.