New rules are needed for a new era of zero emission energy.

Advanced atomic power will play a major role within the maritime industry as we move to achieve zero emissions. As with all new things, the shift towards advanced atomic power come with a number 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 needed to develop relevant rules and frameworks for regulatory agencies to work within. Many rules are already in place, but they were written for conventional nuclear technologies, and must be modernised so they are relevant to new advanced atomic technologies.

The specific characteristics and advantages of MSR power must be comprehensively demonstrated in collaboration with relevant regulatory bodies. The current program to build the MCFR in the USA, is designed to enable this interaction.

Changes to existing rules and writing of new rules require collective work throughout industrial, maritime and atomic industries, over an extended period.

The SOLAS Convention is generally regarded as “the most important of all international treaties” concerning the safety of merchant ships.

With the first version adopted following the Titanic disaster in 1912, the main objective of the SOLAS Convention is 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.

The current SOLAS Convention includes Articles setting out general obligations, 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 necessary amendments, the Convention places responsibility on Flag States to ensure that ships registered under their jurisdiction comply with its requirements.

SOLAS provides that certain certificates will evidence compliance. Flag States may therefore delegate these responsibilities to recognized bodies like 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).

IMO Resolution A.491(XII) needs updating and modernizing to suit a new generation of advanced atomic technologies.

The United States is the most important nuclear nation. In the USA, atomic 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 and for setting the primary rules for building and operating new advanced atomic technologies.

The primary goal of the NRC is 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”.