Nuclear research in a new era
By Nils Morten Huseby (President), Atle Valseth (Deputy President) and Helena Broberg (Head of Safety), IFE.
The Institute for Energy Technology operates Norway’s two nuclear reactors for research, in addition to handling all spent nuclear fuel in Norway. We use laboratories and facilities for researching new materials, solar energy and new energy systems where we handle potentially hazardous chemicals and pressurized gases.
IFE would like more transparency about our operations, and our contribution to research and development in Norway. We are proud of the work our employees carry out to develop new cancer medicine, battery technology, hydrogen and renewable energy. Our responsibility to society is to operate Norway’s nuclear reactors for research and expertise in the areas of nuclear safety, non-proliferation and international disarmament and basic research in physics and material technology. Our comprehensive responsibility to society entails a special responsibility to continuously develop safety work and the safety culture at IFE. This is particularly true in a new era where safety, protection and security are becoming more and more important.
IFE operates in a very safe and secure manner. However, operating nuclear reactors comes with very special obligations. There is probably no other sector in the world that has more stringent rules and requirements to monitoring, standards and supervision.
Safety takes precedence over everything else at IFE. Internationally, new standards, procedures and best practices are constantly being developed regarding how research communities such as IFE can operate safely. We are constantly striving to adapt to new standards.
A healthy safety culture is characterized by never being content with the status quo. We are committed to strengthening and further developing a culture where our employees constantly ask critical questions to improve our efforts, and how we not only develop best practices – but the next practices - in safe operation. That is the reason why IFE invited a group of international experts affiliated with the IAEA (The International Atomic Energy Agency) to review safety at the reactor at Kjeller this autumn. We wanted the experts’ recommendations for improvements based on the IAEA’s advanced standards for safety, which in turn form the basis for our national regulations.
The expert group provided recommendations and items for further discussion. Now we are busy pursuing the recommendations. We have invited the expert group back in a few months to obtain their assessment of how we have followed up their recommendations. We have also invited the IAEA to undertake a review of the safety culture at IFE. In March 2018, we will implement IAEA’s independent improvement programme. We expect the review will result in specific recommendations for further development.
IFE has received feedback from the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority regarding inadequate reporting of incidents and irregularities such as the incident at the Halden reactor last year. As a consequence, we have lowered the threshold for reporting issues to the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority. The result is more issues being reported in addition to routine reports, including issues that have no impact on health, safety and the environment for either the general public or employees. IFE has invited the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority to engage in dialogue to define an appropriate level of reporting.
We realize that the general public may become uneasy when we report incidents to the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority, and it might appear as though there are more incidents at IFE than previously. This is not the case. The change is a result of changed reporting procedures.
Our premise for researching the future of cancer medicine, solar energy, battery solutions for electric cars and the storage of electricity rests on our attitude to safety. IFE turns 70 in 2018, and we will be a leading research community for many decades to come.
IFE has a comprehensive responsibility to society, including operating Norway’s nuclear reactors for research and expertise in the areas of nuclear safety, non-proliferation and international disarmament and basic research in physics and material technology. This entails a special responsibility to continuously develop safety work and the safety culture at IFE. To the left in the photo is IFE's research reactor in Kjeller, JEEP II. Photo: Jan Nossen.