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Gosatomnadzor explains safety precautions ahead of Belarusian nuclear power plant launch

MINSK, 18 March (BelTA) – Head of the Office for the Organization of Oversight over Nuclear and Radiation Safety of Nuclear Installations of the Nuclear and Radiation Safety Department of the Belarusian Emergencies Ministry (Gosatomnadzor) Maksim Mazurenko has explained the system of state oversight used to ensure nuclear and radiation safety in the course of preparations for the commercial operation of the first unit of the Belarusian nuclear power plant, BelTA has learned.

Oversight system

Maksim Mazurenko said: “The Belarusian nuclear power plant is no doubt a unique project for the country from the point of view of the scale (we are talking not only about the nuclear power plant but the relevant nuclear and radiation safety infrastructure the power plant needs) and from the point of view of innovations, technologies, and the economic effect. Since our society has lived through consequences of the Chernobyl catastrophe, the general public wants the state to ensure a proper level of safety and the relevant oversight.”

Constant oversight over the operation of nuclear energy installations is mandated by the legislation. The Gosatomnadzor representative explained that in practice as far as the site of the Belarusian nuclear power plant is concerned, inspections can be arranged at any time and no matter how often. Inspections can be carried out by the government agencies that control various aspects that influence safety. Those include the Emergencies Ministry, which includes Gosatomnadzor, the Healthcare Ministry, the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Ministry, the Labor Ministry, the Energy Ministry, the Interior Ministry, and the Standardization Committee. Round-the-clock unrestricted access of oversight agencies to nuclear installations is a basic requirement of the International Atomic Energy Agency for countries with nuclear energy, the official stressed.

Gosatomnadzor controls virtually all the aspects of the operation of the state enterprise Belarusian Nuclear Power Plant as well as the operation of key organizations involved in the nuclear power plant's construction project, including the general contractor. As for the company in charge of operating the nuclear power plant, inspections are arranged to check technical matters (the state of equipment and the readiness of systems for key stages of the commissioning process), organizational and technical matters (the organization of installation, tuning, testing, welding operations), and organizational matters (the effectiveness of the integrated personnel management system, the personnel training system, the evaluation of the safety and leadership culture).

On-site inspections of the Belarusian nuclear power plant

Gosatomnadzor inspectors arrange inspections all the time. “In other words, some kind of an inspection is in progress at the site of the Belarusian nuclear power plant at any given moment,” Maksim Mazurenko said.

In his words, a lot of events happen at the site and they need control and oversight. Some of them require oversight today, some of today's events can be checked tomorrow, and some require minimal attention. “It is not advisable to plan inspections for all these events. This is why in addition to inspections Gosatomnadzor representatives go on a tour of the site virtually every day. They check on the organization of various kinds of operations involving equipment, evaluate progress in work of the commissions sent by the state enterprise Belarusian Nuclear Power Plant to check knowledge, register equipment, certify knowledge of welders, check welding work. The inspectors pay attention to the overall order at the site as part of the safety culture. For instance, in 2020 we had 185 inspections and checks concerning the site of the Belarusian nuclear power plant, including 64 inspections as determined by the law,” the official explained.

Since inspections focus on various matters and it is necessary to keep an eye on quite an extensive list of operations 24/7, Gosatomnadzor uses a differentiated approach in accordance with recommendations of the International Atomic Energy Agency. “For instance, we check on technical and technical organizational matters more frequently than on organizational matters at this stage of the nuclear power plant's lifecycle. Matters relating to first-class and second-class equipment are prioritized over matters relating to third-class equipment. But we don't leave unattended fourth-class equipment operations which directly affect nuclear and radiation safety,” the Gosatomnadzor remarked.

Apart from inspections Gosatomnadzor keeps an eye on a large array of matters relating to the evaluation of the impact of various technical solutions being implemented at the nuclear power plant site on nuclear and radiation safety. The work involves dozens and hundreds of pages of technical documents every day. Substantiated answers regarding the possibility of implementing the suggested decisions have to be given virtually every day.

Technical inspection of the nuclear power plant

Responsibility for the quality of all operations and the observance of safety requirements and other requirements lies with the operating company (the state enterprise Belarusian Nuclear Power Plant). “Our inspectors ensure additional control on behalf of the state, this is why we don't have to check everything the operating company does. Respectively we don't have the resources to do it,” Maksim Mazurenko said. “The operating company has created its own system to control what is going on at the site. The company's technical inspection department is closest to us as far as the essence of the work is concerned. We even call them colleagues although they work for an organization we oversee.”

Technical inspectors of the state enterprise Belarusian Nuclear Power Plant have to control the quality of operations at the site and their compliance with specified requirements and they should check as much work as possible. Maksim Mazurenko said that the technical inspection of the nuclear power plant is kind of a continuous audit, which is supposed to make the nuclear power plant's management aware of the existing problems and make them resolve the problems. By law the state enterprise Belarusian Nuclear Power Plant bears responsibility for safety, this is why the enterprise should be interested in detecting as many problems as possible, the official stressed.

Meanwhile, Gosatomnadzor inspectors represent state oversight over nuclear and radiation safety at the site of the Belarusian nuclear power plant. It is a tool that is independent from the owner. The state uses the tool to make sure that potentially dangerous activities proceed while the legislated safety requirements are observed and the owner has tools at its disposal for the timely detection of problems.

Detection of discrepancies at the site of the Belarusian nuclear power plant

Violations are described as a fact, as something that has already happened, an event that does not match specified requirements, including nuclear or radiation safety requirements. A discrepancy is a potential problem that has been detected in a timely manner and may evolve into a violation unless it is fixed.

“Control and oversight measures at the construction site of the Belarusian nuclear power plant are meant to prevent things. In other words, the main purpose of Gosatomnadzor inspectors is to detect discrepancies in a timely manner instead of waiting for them to evolve into violations. Inspectors of the state enterprise Belarusian Nuclear Power Plant do the same,” Maksim Mazurenko pointed out.

In his words, discrepancies are detected rather often. “As a matter of principle, it is not an indicator of the quality of work being done at the site. The construction of units of the nuclear power plant involves dozens of companies and hundreds of simultaneously proceeding construction, installation, startup and commissioning operations, and the rest. The design cannot account for all the minor details involved in its implementation. The timely detection of such discrepancies is one of the tasks of the operating company. If they were ignored completely, then we would have to think about what we are doing wrong,” the Gosatomnadzor representative stressed.

“By the way, as for the first unit, which is nearly commissioned, is concerned, we feel a substantial increase in responsibility for the ongoing work on the part of divisions of the operating company. On the whole, the composition of the companies working on the first unit is totally different. Those are experienced companies that have commissioned more than one nuclear power plant unit in Russia and abroad. This is why the discrepancies characteristic of this stage of the construction process are a thing of the past. And the oversight system has changed. The components that are essential for the operation stage are being incorporated into it,” the official concluded.