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Experts from Nine Southern African States and their International Partners Discuss Thematic Reports on Nuclear Safety and Safeguards

 Astana, 9 November 2020. An online working meeting,   convened on 4 November 2020, took stock of the elaboration   of the country specific reports and charted a way ahead for   the preparation of new national studies and a regional report   under Project MC 5.01 15B. Based on the experience from   finalized reports about the state of play with nuclear safety   and safeguards in the four project participating countries   (Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania and Namibia), experts who will be  working on reports in five more southern African states (Eswatini, Madagascar, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and South Africa) received useful guidance.

The country-specific reports are among the main deliverables from the Project, stressed the representatives of the International Science and Technology Center (ISTC). These reports are conceived to survey in each country in focus the national legal and regulatory frameworks that tackle nuclear safety and safeguards; the institutional infrastructures and stakeholders; the decision-making processes and policies, including preparedness to respond to nuclear threats and crises; the degree of compliance with international norms, standards, and best practices, particularly the conventions included in the UN Security Council Resolution 1540 regarding the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

A renowned Kazakh expert, who carefully studied the reports elaborated so far, observed that the main nuclear activity in the surveyed countries is uranium mining and milling, and transportation of uranium ore concentrate (UOC), but there are also other fields of nuclear applications like medicine, agriculture, various industrial technologies. That requires the development of legal and institutional infrastructures that differ from country to country depending on the nuclear activities. The comparative examination of the national reports clearly indicates similar gaps in legal/regulatory frameworks, limitations in governmental regulatory authorities and supporting organizations, procedural delays in development and adoption of nuclear regulations, weaknesses of law enforcement system, limitation in application of advanced environmental quality standards. One of the common problems is the lack of regional nuclear cooperation (e.g. in transportation of UOC).

The expert from the Malawian Atomic Energy Regulatory Authority (AERA) who authored the report presented the findings: Strengthening Frameworks for Safety, Security, and Safeguards of Uranium Ore Concentrate in Malawi. By applying as benchmarks an exhaustive set of nine clusters of internationally adopted standards and best practices, the study provides a snapshot of the existing national policies and practices, legal and institutional frameworks, and administrative procedures that cover all radioactive materials, activities and facilities and regulate specific types of activities, e.g. transport, waste management, NORM etc. The Report contains a series of recommendations ranging from establishment of national policy and strategy for nuclear safety, security and safeguards, to creation of crucial institutions such as Nuclear Security Sub-committee and Technical Safety Committee, and from elaboration of a system of registration or certification of transporters of RM including UOC to increasing the institutional capacity of all agencies relevant to emergency management including the local authorities. The report advises the adherence of Malawi to two international conventions on nuclear emergency management and the CPPNM Amendment. It also stresses the need of regional cooperation for management of emergencies related to the transportation of UOC and other radioactive materials. The Report recommends to the SADC Secretariat to study the findings of all country reports under Project MC 5.01 15B and to the European Commission to consider supporting a medium-term comprehensive project to help SADC member states and other African states address the gaps in their nuclear safety, security and safeguards regimes.

A high ranking official of Malawi’s national regulator, and a leading expert Manuel Martin-Ramos, Senior Expert, European Commission’s Joint Research Center exchanged comments on the report’s findings and recommendations. A key question ensued from this exchange, namely What are the challenges that regional cooperation faces in uranium transportation matters? Answers to this question will be expected from the regional study that will be elaborated under the leadership of Zambia.

A high ranking official of Zambia’s Radiation Protection Authority (RPA) made a presentation on the Expected Inputs for the Regional Report and Nuclear Transport Information Exchange Arrangements. The regional report is expected to present comparative analysis of the existing legal frameworks and regulatory policies, and to examine the possibility of bilateral and/or multilateral arrangements on information exchange on transport and prevention of accidents and threats.

Through joint activities, such as trainings, simulation exercises and the elaboration of national and regional reports, Project MC MC 5.01 15B is providing a platform for the SADC nuclear regulators to discuss common approaches. At the same time, interested countries may go ahead with cooperative arrangement keeping the doors open for all those who would like to join at a later stage. Other formats of cooperation also deserve attention. For example, within the FNRBA, the Thematic Working Group Upgrading Safety in the Transport of Radioactive Material recently launched an initiative to create an African Association of Competent Authorities to support the harmonized implementation and application of the IAEA transport safety standards.

Under Project MC 5.01 15B, the tool for monitoring and exchange of information about the transportation of UOC and radioactive materials is the web-based Information Tracking System (ITS), developed by the Software Company Ltd. Representatives of the developer assured that the system is already in use after the installation of the relevant equipment in South Africa, Tanzania, Malawi, and Zambia. More detailed information on the ITS progress will be delivered at a special online meeting of the ITS users, hosted by ISTC and the developer of the system, scheduled for 11 November.