Nuclear power plants use fissile materials to produce energy in the form of heat, which is converted to electricity by conventional generating plant. Radioactive materials are produced as a by-product of this process. Whilst radioactive materials can have beneficial uses, such as in cancer therapy, they are generally harmful to health. Their use, and the process by which they are produced, must be strictly regulated to ensure nuclear safety.
The scope of nuclear safety and its regulation covers the whole 'nuclear fuel cycle'. The nuclear fuel cycle includes the extraction and enrichment of radioactive ores, the production of nuclear fuels, the transport and use of fuel in the operation of nuclear power plants, the reprocessing of spent fuel to recover reusable materials for more fuel, and the storage of nuclear waste. Apart from the management of fuel, nuclear safety particularly covers the design, construction, operation and decommissioning of all nuclear installations such as nuclear power plants and waste storage facilities. Ensuring nuclear safety also requires the availability of suitably qualified staff, the establishment of an effective safety culture in the workforce, the funding of research into operational and safety issues and an appropriate focus on security. The work of nuclear regulators covers all these aspects.