ASN Report on the State of Nuclear Safety and Radiation Protection in France in 2019

Published on 02/06/2020 • 05:32 pm

Press release

Nuclear safety and radiation protection in 2019: ASN recalls that a commitment to quality and rigour is required from everyone

In the context of the health crisis, ASN presented its report on the state of nuclear safety and radiation protection in France in 2019 to the members of Parliament of the Parliamentary Office for the Evaluation of Scientific and Technological Choices (OPECST). This report was transmitted to the offices of the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister and of the Presidents of the Senate and the National Assembly.It is published on www.asn.fr.

ASN considers that in 2019 the operating safety of the large nuclear facilities and radiation protection in the industrial and medical sectors were on the whole maintained at a satisfactory level.

In the nuclear field:

2019 was marked by greater awareness on the part of the nuclear licensees of the challenges facing them collectively.The need to reinforce the quality of the work done and professional rigorousness in terms of safety has been broadly taken on board, which is essential if progress is to be made.The increase in inspections cannot be considered an appropriate response.As those with prime responsibility for safety, it is therefore up to the licensees to address these challenges.

The main points for 2019 are:

  • Professional competence and rigour at the heart of the nuclear industry’s recovery

ASN considers that the need for quality and rigour in running projects must be restated, not only for new constructions, but also for legacy waste recovery and packaging projects, decommissioning, or major maintenance works. The nuclear industry must more precisely define the conditions for implementation of this action plan “to restore the level of quality, rigour and excellence which underpinned the construction of the French NPP fleet”, notably in terms of reinforcing the safety culture and a rigorous professional attitude.

  •  Continued operation of the 900 MWe reactors:an EDF goal still to be confirmed

ASN will issue a position statement on the generic part of the periodic safety review of the 900 MWe reactors at the end of 2020, by adopting requirements which will govern their continued operation. It considers that implementation of the modifications proposed by EDF leads to significant improvements in the safety of the facilities and contributes to achieving the goals of the periodic safety review. However, ASN considers that these modifications are not able to meet all of the objectives set. If no additional proposals are received from the licensee during the course of 2020, ASN will stipulate additional modifications to be made.

  • The eight EPR containment penetration welds to be repaired

With regard to the deviations in the design and production of welds on the main steam letdown lines, ASN estimated as early as 2018 that preference should be given to repairing all the welds. At the end of 2018, EDF however proposed an approach to justify maintaining certain welds as-is (the eight containment penetration welds). Given the nature and the particularly high number of deviations which occurred in the design and production of these welds, and given that their repair is technically feasible, ASN stated in June 2019 that their repair prior to commissioning of the reactor was the benchmark solution.

  •  Irregularities which should cause everyone to take a fresh look at their activities

The risk of fraud exists, but the number of confirmed cases at this stage is very low when compared with the volume of activities. In most cases, the analyses by the licensees and the investigations carried out by ASN further to these findings, revealed no safety risks. However, the manufacturers and licensees must remain vigilant, including with regard to their own personnel, and question the underlying root causes of this type of behaviour.

  •  A new step in the consultation process for the management of radioactive materials and waste

The joint decision by the Ministry for Ecological and Solidarity-based Transition and the ASN Chairman, specifying how the lessons learned from the public debate on the management of radioactive materials and waste are to be taken on board, was published in February 2020. ASN will continue its involvement on this subject and will seek to make an effective contribution to high-quality consultation with the stakeholders.

  •  Proposals to reinforce the management of a nuclear accident post-accident phase

On the basis of the lessons learned from the Fukushima NPP accident and the emergency exercises, the Steering Committee for the management of the post-accident phase of a nuclear accident (Codirpa) headed by ASN, proposed a number of changes to post-accident doctrine to the Prime Minister.

In the medical field:

In the medical field, the radiation protection of patients undergoing diagnostic or therapeutic procedures involving ionising radiation has been maintained at a high level.The number of significant radiation protection events reported by the health professionals remained very low in 2019 when compared with the number of procedures carried out on patients every year and the complexity of some of these procedures.However, particular attention must be maintained, owing to the extremely sophisticated technical nature of certain medical procedures and the numbers of persons involved.

  •  In external radiotherapy, the number of significant radiation protection events reported was stable in 2019. Three events were rated level 2 on the ASN-SFRO scale, as against 5 in 2018.
  •  In nuclear medicine, the deployment of new therapies with high activity levels being administered to the patients requires particular attention with regard to radioactive effluent management.
  •  With regard to fluoroscopy-guided interventional practices, improvements are still required in a high number of units, although the situation is however better in the interventional radiology units. Inadequate training of the professionals in patient radiation protection and a shortfall in application of the principle of optimisation of procedures are recurring findings during the inspections.

The Covid 19 health crisis has created new challenges

The accumulated delays and postponements in the EDF reactor outages owing to the health crisis in the spring of 2020 will lead to rescheduling of the outages, spread out over 2021 and/or 2022. This situation will involve challenges in terms of both safety and safeguarding of the electricity supply.

In the face of these challenges in 2020, ASN – in close collaboration with EDF – is examining all these questions in the light of the deadlines and requirements applicable to each reactor.

  • ASN considers that the risks linked to organisational and human factors require particular vigilance.These risks may occur notably owing to changes in working practices and how they are organised.
  • Experience feedback from this crisis will provide lessons for the management of a post-accident situation in the event of a nuclear accident.

When the ASN report was presented to the OPECST, the exchanges with the members of Parliament more specifically concerned:

  • The need to strengthen the culture of anticipation and precaution;
  • The conduct of the work on the EPR;
  • Waste management and storage capacity;
  • The consequences of the Covid 19 health crisis in the short, medium and long terms in the nuclear field.

Consult the ASN Report [in french - english translation should be available half of July]

Press contact:
Evangelia Petit, head of ASN press department: 01 46 16 41 42, evangelia.petit@asn.fr

Date of last update : 02/06/2020