PLAYING WITH NUCLEAR SAFETY – THE NUCLEAR TSO’s
by Andrew McKillop
The UN IAEA Weighs In
Few people have heard about the nuclear Technical Support Organizations or TSO’s, but in a May 2013 decision and with its full support, the UN agency charged with nuclear oversight (at the same time as it promotes nuclear power), the IAEA, defined the role of TSO’s at its Vienna headquarters. These are private sector companies and organizations charged with the following tasks, emphasising the key role for TSO’s in the design, construction, operation and management of nuclear plants (NPPs).
Clarify organizational structures and core activities of TSO’s for each NPP;
Describe essential TSO activities at different stages through the lifetime of an NPP;
Determine the goals and criteria for quality control and assurance by the TSO’s and their associated oversight functions;
Define the need for a “TSO design authority” for each NPP as the sole competent interpreter of the technology and as guardian of the licensing procedures for each NPP
Explore recommendations on interfacing NPP managers with the TSO’s, and in assessing their performance.
The IAEA with a stroke of the pen has therefore privatized safety and operation oversight for NPP’s anywhere in the world. A very recent direct result of this was published by Marinelink.com, August 11, 2014 reporting that the energy subsidiary of Lloyds Registry, LR Energy has with Lightbridge Corporation won the contract to operate a TSO which will support the United Arab Emirates Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation, and provide all construction oversight and related technical services for operating a new generation of NPPs in the UAE. As we know, the nearby country of Iraq is now in chaos as the Islamic State (ISIS) advances, and its propaganda calls the UAE and other Gulf monarchies “apostatic and degenerate” states that betray Islam.
LR Energy’s president for nuclear affairs, Mamdou el-Shanawany said that the UAE contract underlines his company’s aspiration to become a leading nuclear TSO, and “demonstrates real momentum towards how safety can be managed and controlled in the nuclear sector.” Privatizing all stages of the nuclear power process, from the design of NPPs to their operation and management, will supposedly “improve safety”. Among other claims, the Lloyds Registry parent company says its long experience in global shipping insurance provides it “relevant experience”.
Safety versus Productivity and Financial Performance
The IAEA’s slim amounts of publicly-available information on the TSO’s underline that the TSO’s will have to juggle with the above key parameters and goals. Financial performance, for example, needs maximum possible output of the NPP and the least-possible interruptions of operations such as spent fuel removal and replacement, and the choice of the lowest-cost options for storing spent fuel rods.
IAEA staffers, always speaking on the condition of anonymity, claim that completely privatizing nuclear safety may or could “bring Israel or even North Korea back into the IAEA framework”.The IAEA highlights the “managerial advisory role” of the TSO’s and its few published documents available to the public on the subject state that this “managerial function” will certainly be customer-oriented, that is acting to support the NPP owners and operators in their choices of “stress tests’ to evaluate the financial and economic performance of enhanced safety measures.
The IAEA says that “The importance of TSO’s was highlighted yet again during reviews that followed the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident”. Since that disaster all NPP operators have operated systematic safety reviews (or ‘stress tests’) and according to the IAEA, internal and external TSO’s are the best equipped to manage the task and “effectively satisfy the needs and requirements of post-Fukushima action plans”.
The direct threats to NPP safety are intensified when the IAEA says that TSO’s will have a clear and direct role “interfacing” with NPP vendors. The TSO’s will intervene throughout the chain, from NPP site selection and bidding to the supply of minor components during plant construction – always ensuring that the goal of financial performance is achieved. To improve this, the IAEA says, TSO’s can reduce or remove the need for costly and time-consuming independent experts and advice.
In particular the IAEA says, its programme to develop TSO’s is targeted at “newcomer countries” that have a national goal in place for their first NPP . Last but not at all least, the IAEA says that TSO’s will themselves be open to competitive bidding, not excluding bids to create TSO’s by nuclear vendors and suppliers.