In the technical language of nuclear safety, the term stress tests generally refers to the re-assessment of the safety margins of nuclear power plants that analyze their behavior and response to an extreme event that causes consequences beyond the design basis, as well as their capacity to manage such an eventuality. Undoubtedly, the health crisis generated by COVID-19 has put our societies to a real stress test.
The Spain’s Nuclear Safety Council (CSN), like all organizations, companies and public administrations, has had to deal with the new pandemic reality, with the added complexity that the activities it oversees, as a regulatory body, affect nuclear safety and radiation protection.
This article explains how the Spanish nuclear regulator has dealt with this situation, from the declaration of the first state of alarm to the present day. The challenges faced by the CSN, both in maintaining its general operation as well as the oversight activities entrusted to it with relative normality, are detailed, and the main measures adopted are described.
With 85% of its workforce working from home, the CSN implemented a contingency plan to ensure the operation of the organization and to provide continuity to its functions in relation to nuclear safety and radiation protection, while contributing, in this way, to the preservation of the operation of critical infrastructures, among which are the nuclear power plants.
As can be seen in the article, the challenge has been twofold, because first it was necessary to create the appropriate conditions to ensure teleworking and the availability of the necessary tools with which to develop the daily activity. Subsequently, the various CSN units had to adopt measures to optimize their activity.
Likewise, in spite of the confinement and distance, the CSN management (the Plenary with its President, the Commissioners, the Secretary General and the Technical Directors) has held videoconferences almost daily. In fact, throughout the organization, from March to October alone, more than 7,200 virtual meetings were held.
In any case, the measures for the organization and the performance of the specific activities entrusted to the regulatory body, such as the supervision of nuclear and radioactive facilities, the issuance and proposal for regulations, the licensing of personnel or the provision of information to the public and Parliament, have allowed these activities to be carried out normally despite the difficulties of teleworking and the health crisis situation.