The situation regarding nuclear safety and radiation protection is worrying ASN remains vigilant

Published on 30/01/2017 • 05:36 pm

Information notice

On 18th January, through its Chairman, Mr Pierre-Franck Chevet, ASN presented its New Year’s wishes to the press in its Montrouge headquarters. Mr Pierre-Franck Chevet gave an overview of the issues facing ASN and the strategic priorities for nuclear safety and radiation protection in 2017.

He pointed out that "a year ago,the situation with regard to nuclear installations was worrying in the medium term. If I had to summarize my thoughts today, I would say that the situation is worrying. I omit "in the medium term".

Pierre-Franck CHEVET, ASN

This judgement is based on several findings:

  • "Firstly, we have entered into a period of unprecedented challenges in terms of safety":
    • "These include extending the operating life of the nuclear reactors, which are approaching 40 years of age, and improving their safety". In April 2016, ASN formalised its expectations regarding the content of the studies and checks to be implemented in the 4th periodic safety review of the 900 MWe reactors. The studies on all these subjects are currently under way. In view of their progress, ASN indicates that the generic position concerning the 900 MWe reactors is expected to be known in the course of 2019.
    • For the fuel cycle and research facilities, the majority of which are also old, "ASN hasalready received 20 to 25 periodic safety review files. Some thirty new files are expected in 2017". For most of these facilities, this will be their first periodic safety review since they started operating. It must provide the opportunity to significantly improve their safety.
    • "The Fukushima follow-ups: a first step was accomplished at the end of 2015 with the installation of flexible and mobile means on all facilities to cope with exceptional accidents". In 2016 ASN inspected the first work sites for the installation of fixed "hardened safety core" equipment, and notably the construction of several ultimate backup diesel generator sets. These operations will extend over 5 to 10 years.
    • "All the major installation construction sites are experiencing difficulties or are behind schedule (RJH, ITER, EPR, etc.). This is probably the result of a loss of hands-on practice and experience in the area. With the exception of the EPR reactor vessel, the problems we are finding are essentially of an industrial nature and do not involve safety issues". ASN will give its position regarding the reactor vessel anomaly towards mid-2017. At the end of 2016, AREVA submitted the majority of the files concerning the serviceability of the EPR reactor vessel to ASN.
  • The year 2016 was marked by two major events:
    • Technical anomalies similar to that of the EPR reactor vessel were detected on some of the steam generators of the EDF reactors. On 18th October ASN asked EDF to conduct inspections on the steam generators of twelve reactors. In the light of the inspection results, nine reactors were able to be restarted.
      P.-F. Chevet emphasized that these inspections "were necessary. The information resulting from the inspections was basically positive, but things could have gone differently".It is necessary "for the French electricity generation system to have the necessary margins to cope with this type of event".
    • With regard to the irregularities observed at Le Creusot, Mr Chevet underlined that "some of the irregularities represent minor deviations, while others may amount to falsifications". ASN has asked Areva to ensure that the review of all the parts manufactured at Creusot Forge in the past be taken through to completion. "This is a truly major issue. A notable finding in April 2016 was the discovery of "concealed files", a practice which dates back to the early 1960's. Rather than declare an anomaly to the customer or to the competent safety authority, the subject was treated internally and the documents were put aside in a special "concealed" file. The 100 concealed files concerning the French nuclear installations have been analysed. Virtually all of them were deemed acceptable with regard to safety except for Fessenheim 2, which was shut down during summer 2016. The matter is still under examination".
      In addition to this, other irregularities were discovered necessitating a complete review of all the manufacturing files. "ASN does not preclude the possibility that these reviews reveal new and serious irregularities".
    • "The manufacturers are still in an extremely difficult financial, economic and budgetary situation, while being confronted with major issues. ASN, which is involved in the oversight of the system as a whole, is also lacking human and financial resources. The staff numbers of ASN together with IRSN, its technical support organisation, have increased by nearly 70 over the last three years. This is really the best one could hope for in the current budgetary context, but it does not quite meet our staffing requirements for the medium term".

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    "This overall context is worrying, even more so than at the beginning of 2016".

    • "One must not lapse into a situation of denial of the scale or even of the existence of difficulties. With regard to the anomalies in point, a number of people have expressed their opinions, including through petitions, accusing ASN of scaremongering by "making too much" of the issues. This reaction comes down to denial. A problem cannot be solved by pretending it does not exist".
    • "This situation also implies not adopting an attitude of rejection or giving up. One must simply do what has been planned":
      • "Finish the complete products review undertaken by Areva, particularly at Le Creusot".
      • "With regard to the economic situation of the licensees, an industrial reorganisation has been decided upon. This must be taken through to completion: this is a message addressed to the government and industry players".
      • As regards ASN:
        • "We must reflect upon changes in our funding system"
        • "The oversight methods must be adapted in order to prevent or detect cases of fraud". ASN will set up a working group to start reflecting upon how the oversight system can evolve. The first conclusions will be presented in mid-2017.
    "

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  • With regard to the Cigéo disposal facility, P.-F. Chevet stressed that "the act of 2016 stipulates the notion of reversibility, a strong demand expressed by fellow citizens in the numerous public debates. It stipulates that reversibility firstly introduces the question of adaptability; the repository must be adaptable to changes in energy strategy. Moreover, reversibility implies being able to recover the waste once it has been placed in the repository. This act, which is of major importance, opens the way for ANDRA to submit a creation authorisation file in 2018".
    "With regard to the waste from the decommissioning of a nuclear installation, including very low activity waste, it is taken to centralised disposal facilities managed by ANDRA. Waste presenting a very low level of risk ends up, on average, being transported half way across France. This is not necessarily the best solution given the transport and environmental issues. This question would deserve public debate".
    "Decommissioning operations are relatively rare at present. However, the facilities will be shut down one day, at which point this issue will have to be addressed on a massive scale".
  • "The risks in small-scale nuclear activities remain high". ASN observes that in radiotherapy, the risk management procedures (risk analyses and feedback from significant radiation protection events) are still not turned to sufficiently good account to further enhance treatment safety. ASN is particularly concerned by the fact that the increase in radiotherapy activity, the technical changes and the human and organisational factors are not fully analysed. With regard to fluoroscopy-guided interventional practices in operating theatres, ASN remains attentive to the reinforcing of the means deployed to optimise doses, particularly by increasing the presence of medical physicists and persons competent in radiation protection, and the training of medical staff in radiation protection and utilisation of the equipment.
    As far as the security of radioactive sources is concerned, Mr Chevet pointed out that "ASN is preparing the operational implementation of full oversight in this domain. We should be ready and operational by the end of 2017, beginning of 2018".

    Evangelia Petit, head of press department, tel.: : (+33) 1 46 16 41 42, evangelia.petit@asn.fr

Date of last update : 08/06/2017