Interview: Mike Weightman

How has the RCF helped Jordan establish an independent and effective nuclear regulatory regime?

MIKE WEIGHTMAN: Jordan, one of dozens of nations considering a nuclear programme, is a member of the RCF, established in 2010 to assist in the development of functionally independent and robust nuclear safety regulatory bodies. The RCF mainly focuses on countries considering the introduction or expansion of nuclear programmes. Under the auspices of the RCF, and as its chair, I have visited the kingdom to share my experiences of running the UK’s nuclear safety regulator, whilst all the while stressing that it remains for Jordan itself to decide what is right for its own cultural, legal, societal and environmental challenges.

International collaboration is of paramount importance to improve the safety and regulation of nuclear activities. Effective regulators understand that no matter how high our standards, the quest for improvement must never stop. We must also acknowledge that if there is an accident, the consequences would not remain within one country’s boundaries.

What recommendations do you have for those seeking to promote trust in nuclear energy production?

WEIGHTMAN: My view is that independence, openness and transparency of regulation are the three main components to earning people’s trust. These principles should be adopted from the earliest stages of development. A trusted regulator is one that does not become involved in, and is independent from, the policy of nuclear energy. These are matters for governing bodies. The regulator must stay neutral in this debate and be neither for nor against nuclear development. Its role is to ensure that if nuclear activity does take place, it is done safely. The regulator must ensure its decisions and actions are taken with a presumption of openness and transparency. In the past, the public was largely comforted just by the existence of an independent regulator. However, society and technology have changed. This no longer applies. In 2011 in the UK, we started a new path towards establishing the Office for Nuclear Regulation as a “statutory corporation”. This status would mean we can better control our own destiny, enhancing not only our independence legally but also our independence in day-to-day activities. These are examples of historical and recent experiences which, through the RCF, I can offer to Jordan. However, it remains for Jordan to determine how this may apply within Jordan.

How should regulators in Jordan interpret and apply the lessons of Fukushima when formulating their nuclear energy development strategy?

WEIGHTMAN: The events at Fukushima Dai-ichi provided regulators and policymakers with a unique opportunity to learn from a serious accident. Nationally and within member states of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the RCF has analysed the circumstances and is applying the lessons learned. In the UK, the Office for Nuclear Regulation has published six reports on Fukushima. Although we concluded there were no fundamental weaknesses in the safety of UK nuclear installations, we identified areas for potential enhancements.

Indeed, nuclear regulators must never be complacent and must accept there are always things that can be improved. For example, licensees in the UK are now reviewing the country’s reliance on off-site infrastructure in extreme events, emergency response arrangements, layout of plants, flooding risks and planning controls around nuclear sites. This has confirmed the value of our periodic safety review process which, alongside ongoing maintenance, inspection and testing, ensures that every 10 years each installation has a thorough review of its design basis against modern standards, the latest knowledge and developments. Like many countries, the UK has subjected its analyses to peer review. Colleagues from other regulators have offered their thoughts, which is something we have welcomed as we must maximise the potential to enhance safety. I can commend these principles to Jordan, but it must determine if and how it could be applied there.