Swedish strategy for competence in radiation protection and nuclear safety

The Radiation Safety Authority functions mainly well. But the availability of qualified personnel is a concern. This is what the UN’s atomic energy agency, the IAEA, states after an examination.

A group from the IAEA has carried out the review during a twelve-day visit to Sweden. The work was completed last week.

The review was carried out at the request of the Swedish government. A similar one was carried out ten years ago, in 2012, with a follow-up in 2016. The aim is to strengthen the efficiency of the Radiation Safety Authority, which is the supervisory authority for nuclear power and radiation safety.

Forsmark’s nuclear power plant. Archive image. Photo: Robert Gabrielsson

The IAEA group has, among other things, accompanied the Radiation Safety Authority’s staff on inspections of Forsmark’s nuclear power plant, Westinghouse’s nuclear fuel plant and the nuclear power plant in Ågesta, which was decommissioned in 1974 and is now being dismantled.

– The Radiation Safety Authority is a competent, independent regulatory agency whose staff is concerned with effectively fulfilling the agency’s statutory obligations, says Scott Morris, from the US regulatory agency NRC, in a press release.

Recommends national strategy

On the plus side, the review group noted, among other things, the authority’s annual reviews of the safety of the nuclear power plants. On the downside, it was found that better coordination is needed between the Radiation Safety Authority and other Swedish authorities responsible for safety.

Ågesta nuclear power plant was operated during the 1960s and 1970s. Here you can see the control room. Photo: Lennart Ström

In addition, the IAEA group recommends that Sweden draw up a national strategy for the competence needs going forward, especially in view of the possibility that nuclear power will be expanded.

The supply of competence at the Radiation Safety Authority is an issue that has been on the back burner for a long time. Already during the review in 2012, the IAEA pointed out that the authority was going through a generational change and needed to ensure that it would also have access to the right competence in the future.

“Employees flee the authority”

In a self-evaluation that the Radiation Safety Authority did at the same time, it was also found that the supply of skills needed to be managed. For example, the crisis organization was considered vulnerable in certain areas because only a few people had key skills.

Fokus newspaper drew attention to the problem at the end of October 2022. There it was established, with the help of anonymous sources, that employees are fleeing the authority. Four managers in the nuclear power area, a large number of inspectors and most of the legal expertise have chosen to leave, according to the newspaper.

One of the main reasons for the dissatisfaction, according to the Fokus article, is a reorganization that was carried out in the summer of 2021, when the operation was divided into three departments: one for supervision, one for permit examination and one for standardization (drafting of regulations).

– No one has the main responsibility for nuclear power safety anymore and no one has the overall picture, said an anonymous manager who had chosen to quit, to Fokus.

The government must establish an action plan

The review that the IAEA has now carried out is called IRRS, which stands for Integrated Regulatory Review Service. All nuclear power countries in the EU must undergo such a test every ten years.

The Swedish government welcomes the review.

– The government will, in close dialogue with the Radiation Safety Authority, discuss the advice and recommendations specified by the IAEA in the report, in order to determine an action plan for the next year, says State Secretary Daniel Westlén in a press release.

Next year, the IAEA will review the Swedish handling of spent nuclear fuel and decommissioning of nuclear power plants.

Swedish nuclear power

Sweden has six nuclear reactors in operation at three nuclear power plants. In total, the reactors have an installed electrical output of 6,885 MW and account for approximately 31 percent of Sweden’s total electricity production.


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