Swedish Radiation Safety Authority: International Vector

The mission of the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority (SSM) is to protect the society against radiation hazards.

SSM aims at ensuring nuclear and radiation safety at Swedish nuclear power plants through three instruments: law-making, regulatory oversight and licensing. At the same time, SSM deals with the safe management of spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste, provides oversight of medical institutions paying close attention to the safety of X-ray diagnostics, and arranges educational activities for the society to tell about the impact of naturally occurring radiation sources on the human body.

International activity is also one of SSM’s most important areas. To learn about the most important tasks of the SSM Office for International Relations, current projects of international technical assistance and their funding sources, Uatom.org Editorial Board had an interview with Lars van Dassen, Director of the SSM Office for International Relations.

Lars van Dassen, Director of the Office for International Relations

– Lars, please tell us how long have you been working for the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority? Do you have experience in the nuclear safety area?  

I have been working at SSM for about 17 years. Earlier I worked as a researcher and programme director at Uppsala University, one of the oldest educational institutions in Sweden. I wrote a lot about non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and was the leader of an international training course for diplomats and scientists from developing countries. From 1994 to 1996, I was a researcher at the Peace Research Institute in Frankfurt, where I also dealt with non-proliferation issues. While studying at the University, I was trained in the IAEA and in the European Commission’s Office for International Nuclear Trade. In general, I have been working in this area since 1990 after training in the IAEA.

– Today, you are Director of the SSM Office for International Relations. What are your most important tasks?  

The Office for International Relations is directly subordinated to SSM Director General Mats Persson and his Deputy Fredrik Hassel.

Two strategic areas are important for our Office.

The first is cooperation on international projects funded by the Swedish government. We provide international technical assistance to Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Belarus, and Russia.

The second area is coordination of international policy in this field. We are responsible for arranging meetings with the IAEA, monitoring of timely reporting within the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management and the Convention on Nuclear Safety. At the same time, we contribute to the development of international cooperation in radiation safety.

In general, we try to do our work in the best way, because we are well aware of its significance for further development of nuclear and radiation safety in Sweden, as well as in those countries that we assist.

– What is the number of personnel at the SSM Office for International Relations?

Together with me there are 13 people, we also have three vacancies.

– Could you tell more about international technical assistance projects?

– Today, we have about 35 such projects. All of them are focused on Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Belarus, and Russia.  

Ukraine is our long-standing partner. We have been cooperating in nuclear and radiation safety since 1992. Jointly with the Ukrainian regulator, we have implemented a number of projects, and this cooperation is ongoing.

We worked with the SNRIU on the projects on radioactive material management, collection, accounting and control and assisted in improvement of the SNRIU information and technical support.

We currently cooperate with many organizations in Ukraine on illicit trafficking of radioactive materials. We also have a quite successful project with the Energoatom Company on physical protection of the Khmelnitsky NPP. The first phase of the project has been already completed, next year we plan to implement the second phase with our colleagues from Norway. 

In Ukraine, we also have projects that promote public awareness in nuclear and radiation safety. The first is preparation of the ‘Nuclear History of Ukraine’ book jointly with the Odessa National University.

The second is establishment and coordination of the Uatom.org website on nuclear safety, radiation protection and nuclear non-proliferation jointly with the SNRIU and State Scientific and Technical Center for Nuclear and Radiation Safety.  

– What projects SSM has in Russia, Georgia, Moldova and Belarus?

In Russia, we have several projects for the Leningrad NPP. Both of them are related to safe operation of facilities and are implemented in close cooperation with colleagues from Norway and Finland. Moreover, in Russia we cooperate with the Rosatom Company on spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste management in the North-Western region of the country.

In general, in Russia there are a number of organizations with which we cooperate and a number of cooperation areas including: combating illicit trafficking of weapons of mass destruction, physical protection of facilities, exchange of experience in radioactive waste management, etc.

In Georgia, we worked on preventing illicit trafficking of radioactive materials, raising the awareness of journalists in this area. In addition, we coordinated the project on establishing a physical protection system at a research reactor, which has been already decommissioned.

In Georgia, we are launching a project for construction of a storage facility for radioactive materials. The project will be funded by the European Union.  

We implemented a number of projects in Moldova: on illicit trafficking of radioactive materials, establishment and development of the regulatory body, and associated assistance. Current projects include collection of radiation sources.

In Belarus, we are just starting our activities. Together with our colleagues from Norway and Finland, we will work on strengthening the regulator’ role and monitor the construction of a new nuclear power plant in Ostrovets.   

This is, in fact, a brief description of our projects. Of course, their number is much greater in each country.

– Lars, what is the source of funding for these projects?

As for funding the projects in Russia, it is the Swedish Ministry of the Environment. The projects for Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova and Belarus are funded by the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Also, as I mentioned, we will have a joint project in Georgia for the construction of a radioactive material storage facility to be funded by the European Union.

– You have told a lot about implemented and current projects in Ukraine. How about new ones?

– In fact, we do not impose projects on our partners. On the contrary, we are interested in what they need. After we learn their needs, we listen to the details and find out if the project meets the goals of our cooperation and financial capabilities.

Our representation abroad is very important since it allows us to establish more productive cooperation in the area. 

– What challenges does the SSM Office for International Relations currently face?

– One of the most significant challenges is moving a part of SSM to Katrineholm. The Swedish Radiation Safety Authority is going to have two offices soon: in Stockholm and the new one in Katrineholm. This is a kind of uncertainty for our employees, because a part of the team will have to move to another city.

As Director of the Office for International Relations, I am also conscious about that. After all, a part of the team will stay in Stockholm, while the other part will work in Katrineholm. Having a team working in different cities is not so simple. Moreover, I am concerned that I might lose some experts because of the transfer. As you understand, not everyone will be happy to change the place of residence.  

– Lars, you have a great experience of cooperation with the Ukrainian regulator. What differences have you noticed in activities of SNRIU and SSM?

– Frankly speaking, the challenges that SSM is currently facing are nothing compared to the issues that SNRIU management and personnel have to overcome. Lack of resources, rather low salaries, war in the East of the country. Of course, it is very difficult to work in such conditions.

– What in your opinion should be improved at SNRIU for more effective work?

– As for me, SNRIU lacks human resources. The projects of international technical assistance are intended to facilitate the regulator’s activities; on the contrary, they overload personnel with work in current circumstances.

– What do you think about diversification of nuclear fuel in Ukraine?

– It does not matter to me where Ukraine will buy nuclear fuel: Westinghouse or TVEL. It is important that Ukraine is able to buy fuel that meets all safety requirements at the best prices on the international market.

– Lars, what should be improved in Ukraine today to enter the EU with a strong nuclear and radiation safety system?

– The question is very comprehensive. Therefore, it not possible to give a full answer.

Nevertheless, I would like to note positive changes in nuclear and radiation safety in Ukraine.

First, Ukraine has good relations with the European Commission and has concluded an agreement with the European Atomic Energy Community. Under this agreement, a number of activities to improve Ukrainian safety regulations to meet the European standards have been already performed. At present, this work is ongoing.

Anyway, I would like to recommend Ukraine to adopt the experience of certain EU countries, particularly Sweden or Finland, that implement various documents, such as directives on radioactive waste management and on nuclear safety. After all, one thing is when you get a task from representatives of the European Commission and a different thing is when an EU member state shares practical experience with you.

Uatom.org Editorial Board