Castletown Law is a small international law firm, delivering support to the energy and infrastructure service with a particularly strong practice in nuclear law and regulation with five specialists practicing in this area.
In this article we look at two aspects of consideration required for those jurisdictions that have ambitions to include civil nuclear power in their energy production capacity:
- Legislation and regulation to comply with relevant treaty requirements
- Commercial and operational aspects to consider as pre-conditions to beginning the process
Legislation and Regulation
The legal principles that apply in nuclear legislation and regulation derive from multiple international treaties and the compliance of those treaties is overseen by the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA). The IAEA guidance to those jurisdictions that wish to begin the process of developing the capacity to host civil nuclear energy includes multiple documents, but the most important is the IAEA document called ‘Milestones Approach for Developing the National Infrastructure for Nuclear Power’.
This document sets out 19 aspects for consideration and each of these must be considered and included in the national curriculum for development of the relevant infrastructure and capability. These are:
• National position • Nuclear safety • Management • Funding and financing • Legal framework • Safeguards • Regulatory framework • Radiation protection • Electrical grid • Human resource development • Stakeholder involvement • Site and supporting facilities • Environmental protection • Emergency planning • Nuclear security • Nuclear fuel cycle • Radioactive waste management • Industrial involvement • Procurement.
In addition, the IAEA sets out a phases and stages approach in which these criteria should be considered. In our view the phases and stages approach over simplifies aspects which are extremely complex and which many jurisdictions with limited nuclear credentials will find difficult to embrace.
Our view is before entering a process which can be costly and very time consuming, sometimes stretching over many years, it is preferable for each jurisdiction to make an appraisal of its capability and capacity. This means that for some countries large nuclear 1GW+ will not be an option because it does not have the water supply, the transmission systems, the security systems or the operational capacity, to take on responsibility for such a project. Similarly, although smaller SMR technologies (circa 300Mw) generally also need a significant water supply and a distribution grid or network or dedicated off takers to make them viable, as with large plants the security aspects will be a major consideration. The security aspects will also apply to AMR (Advanced Modular Reactors) (generally less than 100Mw and often much less) but these new technology reactors can operate in arid climates, without large water supplies. They also have local network capability and inherent storage capacity which makes them extremely flexible in their application and use, and suitable for sole supply or integration into a combined low carbon energy supply source.
Many aspects of the IAEA guidance will come into play if a decision is made to move forward, but we suggest the first step is to conduct a realistic appraisal of the jurisdictions capacity and capability to support development and deployment of a civil nuclear programme for energy supply.
Commercial and Operational
In the pre-commencement phase, it is equally important to the decision as to whether or not to proceed with engagement with the IAEA. In this section we consider what the commercial and operational issues are. Often missed here is the relevant international credit rating of the country, its national security status and the capacity of the country to underwrite the liability risk imposed under the Treaty obligations.
As we have found in other jurisdictions these aspects of the assessment are often overlooked and later in the process major obstacles are encountered. If preliminary considerations favour a positive approach to national nuclear infrastructure deployment, then a preparations for indigenous capacity, to deal with security, safety, operation, control, emergency preparedness for a nuclear incident, fuel transportation and management and eventual decommissioning, has to be considered and planned for.
Most newcomer nuclear countries, and many existing nuclear countries do not have the required capabilities to deal with these areas in the modern world and in the context of the highly advanced nuclear technologies now available.
The ability to host and manage systems which are adaptable to operation in AI and digitally controlled environments, and with remote instrumentation and control monitoring, is an essential requirement in modern nuclear developments.
One of the first steps is to establish and populate a nuclear directorate, where relevant knowledge and capacity can be charged with developing and overseeing the various stages of development of infrastructure and systems that will be required to operate for the many decades of a nuclear plants life and decommissioning phase.
A robust and infallible system for approval of nuclear technologies, components, sites, contracting agencies and supply chain and policing those to ensure appropriate security measures apply, is part of the initial milestone approach which each jurisdiction must undertake.
To reach Milestone 1 on the IAEA milestone approach a country must be able to demonstrate that it has understood all of the relevant commitments and has a planned approach to meet the requirements of the phases that follow.
There are within the MENA region a number of countries which are either in the process of becoming a civil nuclear jurisdiction or are considering embarking as a newcomer to the civil nuclear family of countries through the IAEA processes. Although the processes are designed for control and operation of nuclear installations areas of specific undertakings, such as signing up to the international treaties and undertaking a liability risk assessment to ascertain if a country hosting nuclear can underwrite the nuclear risks which are said to exist. This latter point around the capacity of a country to fund and bear the consequent risk from operational nuclear activity is a key aspect on countries of low wealth thresholds. The use on GEN IV technologies which have a much lower risk profile and cost base can mitigate this risk profile significantly and make accessible civil nuclear energy for most countries in the region.
Over the years we have helped countries to reach the relevant stages they require for acceptance of their capability at Milestone 1. Most recently we have done this for Estonia with local law firm support from Triniti Law. We would be delighted to help others and to support the continuing growth of nuclear as a low carbon sustainable and economic provider of future energy for the world.
If you require any expertise on your nuclear journey, Castletown Law can help guide you through the legal requirements for what can be a complex and involved process. Get in touch by email, Andrew Renton, or visit the Castletown Law Website to view papers and films we have published on nuclear energy including our most recent: Energy Transition and Nuclear Energy.