In response to the Covid 19 epidemic, ASN is adapting its method of functioning while maintaining its rigour in the oversight of nuclear installations
The consequences of the Covid 19 epidemic on nuclear activities must be identified according to the nature of the operations.
A large number of nuclear installations whose functioning is not vital for the continued activity of the country, operated in particular by the CEA, Orano or Andra, have been shut down and are maintained in safe state. Activities on the majority of work sites, particularly decommissioning sites, have been suspended. Orano has kept up activities necessary for the functioning of the EDF nuclear power plants (NPP) as regards the removal of spent fuel, fuel reprocessing and supplying the NPPs with fresh fuel.
With regard to the nuclear power plants, EDF is giving priority to the operating aspects that are vital for the supply of electricity and is currently examining the conditions for continuation of the reactor maintenance activities during refuelling and maintenance outages.
In this context, ASN is maintaining its highly stringent demands with respect to the nuclear licensees.
The examination work conducted by ASN in collaboration with IRSN is continuing as normal, with the exception of certain specific studies, such as those requiring dedicated computation resources which are not remotely accessible.
ASN is adapting its in-field oversight system by applying three principles:
- the exclusion of face-to-face contacts unless absolutely necessary, in order to limit propagation of the virus;
- giving priority to the oversight of facilities remaining in operation;
- maintaining oversight activities proportionately to the risks.
In this context, inspections involving on-site presence are suspended, save when necessary (such as a significant event requiring on-site inspection in order to gather the initial information).
For the facilities that continue to function, particularly the EDF reactors and the Orano facilities, on-site inspections are replaced by remote verifications, particularly concerning the examination of documents relating to day-to-day operation (periodic test records, operational management documents, etc.), accompanied by audioconferences with the licensee. This type of remote verification will be able to be continued, with adaptations, including in cases where the number of persons on site is drastically reduced due to the implementation of the business continuity plan measures.
For the facilities that are shut down, ASN is discussing with the licensees concerned the practical procedures relating to maintenance and safety of the facilities and the conditions of restarting them in the future. These discussions focus in particular on the possible changes in inspection and test frequencies.
In addition to this, ASN labour inspection, which is competent for inspection in nuclear power plants, has organised itself so that it can fulfil its role of monitoring employee work conditions for both EDF employees and outside contractor employees working on the sites.
Thus, in the current situation of the Covid 19 pandemic, ASN has had to draw EDF's attention to the situation of outside contractors' employees, by asking it to clearly define those maintenance or logistic activities whose continuity is vital, so that there is no ambiguity for these companies and their employees, and to ensure that the conditions of health and safety for all employees are clearly communicated and correctly implemented on the sites.
The ASN labour inspectors will only go in person to the EDF sites when the urgency or seriousness of the situation necessitates their presence on site.
As part of the post-Fukushima safety improvements, EDF is updating its on-site emergency plans (PUI) to integrate potential difficulties in gaining access to the sites, which could render full deployment of the local emergency response teams more complicated (progressive deployment of the PUI). These changes in the PUI, examined by ASN with the assistance of IRSN, have been tested in hands-on situations during unannounced exercises which provided the opportunity to check that EDF is capable of managing an on-site emergency plan in highly degraded mode, should such a situation arise.
ASN and the licensees hold regular audioconferences at national and local level to discuss the development of the situation and its consequences.