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Concepts and terms

IAEA Safety Standards

States are expected to adopt within their national legal order such legislation and measures as may be necessary to fulfil effectively their international obligations.

Civil nuclear activities undertaken within the jurisdiction of States are, like any other activities, subject to the general principles and customary rules of international law, in addition to conventional obligations to which States may subscribe.

The IAEA is authorized by its Statute to establish standards of safety for protection of health and minimization of danger to life and property in the utilization of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, and to provide for the application of these standards.

The safety standards developed by the IAEA, although not legally binding, are designed to provide internationally agreed principles, requirements and recommendations for States to ensure that the conduct of civil nuclear activities, and the application of radioactive sources and other sources of ionizing radiation, are undertaken in a manner that enables States to meet their obligations under international law.

A sound implementation of IAEA safety standards by States will serve to protect human life and health and the environment from harmful effects of radiation exposure, and may also serve as evidence for the fulfilment of States' international obligations.

Complementarity of safety and protection

The presence of a source in the vicinity of a person (target) could potentially, in the absence of measures for safety and protection, give rise to exposure of the target to radiation.

The figure is a schematic representation of such a situation of potential exposure: potential exposure is the risk of exposure to radiation.

Safety concerns both risks under normal circumstances and risks as a consequence of incidents, as well as other possible direct consequences of a loss of control over a nuclear reactor core, nuclear chain reaction, radioactive source or any other source of radiation.

Safety involves the prevention or reduction of potential exposure and other risks (for the minimization of danger).

Radiation protection involves the prevention or reduction of radiation exposure (for the protection of health).

Safety is thus primarily concerned with maintaining control over sources, whereas radiation protection is primarily concerned with controlling exposure to radiation, whatever the source, to mitigate its effects.

Clearly protection and safety are closely related: protection is much simpler if the source in question is kept under control, so safety necessarily contributes towards protection.

There are many different types of sources of radiation, and hence safety includes the safety of nuclear installations, radiation safety, the safety of radioactive waste management and safety in the transport of radioactive material.

Meaning of 'nuclear'

'Nuclear' strictly means relating to a nucleus or relating to or using energy released in nuclear fission or fusion.

The adjective ‘nuclear’ is used in many phrases to modify a noun that it cannot logically modify. It must be borne in mind that the meaning of such phrases may be unclear.

These phrases may therefore be open to misunderstanding, misrepresentation or mistranslation, and their usage may need to be explained.

Such phrases include: nuclear accident; nuclear community; nuclear emergency; nuclear facility; nuclear incident; nuclear installation; nuclear material; nuclear medicine; [a] nuclear power; nuclear safety; nuclear security; nuclear terrorism; nuclear trafficking; nuclear watchdog; and nuclear weapon.

For example, strictly speaking, ‘nuclear material’ primarily means the material of the atomic nucleus.

Meaning of '(nuclear) safety'

'Safety' is the achievement of proper operating conditions, prevention of accidents and mitigation of accident consequences, resulting in protection of workers, the public and the environment from undue radiation hazards.

'Nuclear safety' is often abbreviated to 'safety' in IAEA publications on nuclear safety. 'Safety' may thus mean 'nuclear safety' unless otherwise stated, in particular when other types of safety (e.g. fire safety, conventional industrial safety) are also being discussed.

Safety concerns the protection of people and the environment against radiation risks, and the safety of facilities and activities that give rise to radiation risks.

Safety concerns both risks under normal circumstances and risks as a consequence of incidents, as well as other possible direct consequences of a loss of control over a nuclear reactor core, nuclear chain reaction, radioactive source or any other source of radiation.

There are many different types of sources of radiation, and hence safety includes the safety of nuclear installations, radiation safety, the safety of radioactive waste management and safety in the transport of radioactive material; it does not include non-radiation-related aspects of safety.

Meaning of '(nuclear) security'

'Nuclear security' is the prevention and detection of, and response to, theft, sabotage, unauthorized access, illegal transfer or other malicious acts involving nuclear material, other radioactive substances or their associated facilities.

The response element of the definition refers to those actions aimed at ‘reversing’ the immediate consequences of unauthorized access or actions (e.g. recovering material).

Response to the radiological consequences that might ensue is considered part of safety.

'Nuclear security' is often abbreviated to 'security' in IAEA publications on nuclear security. 'Security' may thus mean 'nuclear security' unless otherwise stated.

Complementarity of safety and security

There is not an exact distinction between the general terms safety and security. In general, security is concerned with malicious or negligent actions by humans that could cause or threaten harm to other humans; safety is concerned with the broader issue of harm to humans (or the environment) from radiation, whatever the cause.

The precise interaction between security and safety depends on the context.

Safety and Security'Safety and security synergies' concern, for example: the regulatory infrastructure; engineering provisions in the design and construction of nuclear installations and other facilities; controls on access to nuclear installations and other facilities; the categorization of radioactive sources; source design; the security of the management of radioactive sources and radioactive material; the recovery of orphan sources; emergency response plans; and radioactive waste management.

Safety matters are intrinsic to activities, and transparent and probabilistic safety analysis is used.

Security matters concern malicious actions and are confidential, and threat based judgement is used.

Safety measures and security measures

Safety measures include actions to prevent incidents and arrangements put in place to mitigate the consequences of incidents if they were to occur.

‘Incidents’ includes initiating events, accident precursors, near misses, accidents and unauthorized acts (including malicious and non-malicious acts).

Security measures include measures for the prevention and detection of, and response to, the theft of nuclear material or radioactive material (with or without knowledge of the nature of the material), sabotage and other malicious acts, illicit trafficking and unauthorized transfer.

Safety measures and security measures have in common the aim of protecting human life and health and the environment.

The IAEA safety standards concern the security of facilities and activities to the extent that they apply to measures that contribute to both safety and security, such as:

  • Appropriate provisions in the design and construction of nuclear installations and other facilities
  • Controls on access to nuclear installations and other facilities to prevent the loss of, and the unauthorized removal, possession, transfer and use of, radioactive material
  • Arrangements for mitigating the consequences of accidents and failures, which also facilitate measures for dealing with breaches in security that give rise to radiation risks
  • Measures for the security of the management of radioactive sources and radioactive material.

Safety measures and security measures must be designed and implemented in an integrated manner so that security measures do not compromise safety and safety measures do not compromise security.

Security of nuclear material for reasons relating to non-proliferation is outside the scope of the IAEA safety standards.

 

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| Last update: Tuesday, December 09, 2014.