m-MSR Regulatory.

Atomic propulsion will play a major role within the maritime industry. With a shift towards atomic power, there are a series or political and regulatory challenges that must be overcome.

Key regulatory bodies on both the atomic and the maritime side must be engaged to provide the assistance they need to develop a sufficient regulatory program for atomic maritime propulsion

The advantages of m-MSR power must be comprehensively demonstrated, with clear practical examples on to how the tangible benefits offset any risk.

This requires collective work throughout both the maritime and nuclear industries, over what can be expected to be an extended period.

SOLAS is generally regarded as “the most important of all international treaties” concerning the safety of merchant ships, with the main objective of the SOLAS Convention to “specify minimum standards for the construction, equipment and operation of ships, compatible with their safety”.

Adopted in 1974, SOLAS looks to promote safety of life at sea by establishing rules which govern the safe construction of ships, the safety equipment with which ships are required to be fitted and the standards to which they should be operated in order to avoid accidents. With the first version adopted following the Titanic disaster in 1912, its main objective is to specify the minimum standards for the construction, equipment and operation of ships, compatible with their safety.

The current SOLAS Convention includes Articles setting out general obligations, amendment procedure and so on, followed by an Annex divided into 14 Chapters. There are 164 contracting states, covering about 99% of merchant ships around the world in terms of gross tonnage.

While responsibility lies with the IMO to review the Convention and draft any necessary amendments, the Convention places responsibility on Flag States to ensure that ships registered under their jurisdiction comply with its requirements. The Convention provides that certain certificates will evidence compliance. Flag States may delegate these responsibilities to recognized bodies (i.e. classification societies).

SOLAS defines nuclear ships as ships on which a nuclear plant is installed. General provisions related to nuclear ships are listed in SOLAS Chapter VIII, while detailed regulations are listed in the Code of Safety for Nuclear Merchant Ships, IMO Resolution A.491(XII), the CODE.

IMO Resolution A.491(XII) now needs updating and modernizing.

In the United States, Nuclear energy is regulated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, NRC. The NRC was established in 1974, following the Energy Reorganization Act, with the object of protecting public health and safety in relation to nuclear energy. It does this as the entity responsible for renewing the operating licenses of plants throughout the country. In its 2018 – 2022 strategic plan, it identifies two strategic goals.

These are to:

  • Ensure the safe use of radioactive materials;
  • Ensure the secure use of radioactive materials.

Within this, it identifies seven “Security Strategies” and eight “Safety Strategies”. The “Security Strategies” look to build on the knowledge gained from operating experience in maintaining “effective, consistent, and risk-informed oversight”. The NRC looks to act proactively to identify, assess and address threats and security risks, including the security of, and risk to nuclear materials. In looking to ensure the safe use of radioactive materials, the “Safety Strategies” cover an equally broad spectrum, including the maintenance of material safety; identifying, assessing and resolving safety issues and ensuring the NRC maintains its readiness to respond to incidents and emergencies.

In Europe, the European Atomic Energy Community. EURATOM, established a single market for the trade in nuclear materials and technology. It ensures that Europe’s nuclear plants are operated safely and guarantee a secure supply of nuclear fuel. It was established in 1957, with the purpose of providing secure access to nuclear materials and technology, for peaceful use and research. The national authorities of Member States however remain primarily responsible for the regulation and safety of nuclear facilities.

In the UK, the position on nuclear regulation is not fully determined given the future withdrawal from the European Union. In addition to setting out the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill also indicates that the UK will leave EURATOM. However, in order to continue to benefit from the free movement of nuclear goods, capital and people, it will need to negotiate its own safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA. The UK Nuclear Industry Association, NIA, recommends that the UK remain part of EURATOM until it has had sufficient time to negotiate “new agreements with EU member states and third countries, including the US, Japan and Canada, who have nuclear agreements within the EURATOM framework”.