The UK’s nuclear industry is safe and has made progress to reinforce its regulatory functions, according to a review by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). A team of experts from the organisation carried out an integrated regulatory review (IRRS) mission in the country.

IRRS missions are designed to strengthen the effectiveness of national nuclear and radiation safety regulation infrastructure, based on IAEA standards and international good practices, while recognising each country’s sovereign responsibility to ensure nuclear radiation and safety.

The UK Government called for the seven-day follow up IRRS mission, which took place at the headquarters of the Health and Safety Executive and Office for Nuclear Regulation in Bootle, near Liverpool.

The IRRS team comprised seven senior regulatory experts from seven IAEA member states, three IAEA staff members and one observer from Canada.

A lack of recruitment of expert staff was cited as a concern in the report, however. This has had an impact on regulatory processes and the IAEA recommended a pay reform where required in order to ensure the statutory remit is delivered.

Ramzi Jammal, acting CEO of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and the team leader for the IRRS follow-up mission, said: “This IRRS follow-up mission demonstrated that the UK has made continuous improvements since the IRRS 2019 mission to the highest standards of nuclear and radiation safety. The findings of the mission will contribute to the ongoing efforts to ensure a robust regulatory framework for the benefit of the public and the environment.”

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The UK’s last known nuclear disaster was in 1957, at Windscale in Cumbria, when routine heating of a reactor’s graphite blocks ran out of control, causing adjacent uranium cartridges to rupture and catch fire. The government at the time covered up the event, which was eventually announced to the public in 1988.