ASN Report on the state of nuclear safety and radiation protection in France in 2017

Published on 28/06/2018

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The Nuclear Safety Authority presents its report on the state of nuclear safety and radiation protection in France in  2017.

This report is required by Article L. 592-31 of the Environment Code.

It was submitted to the President of the Republic,  the Prime Minister and the Presidents of the Senate and the National Assembly and  transmitted to the Parliamentary Office for the  Evaluation of Scientific and Technological Choices, pursuant to the above-mentioned Article.

A year that was on the whole satisfactory: a less worrying context, but several subjects requiring vigilance

 
In 2017, the safety of the operation of the large nuclear facilities and radiation protection in the industrial and medical fields remained on the whole satisfactory. However, with regard to the EDF NPP fleet, vigilance is required in the light of the difficulties encountered in the management of equipment conformity. In the medical sector, the persistence of level 2 incidents, more specifically in radiotherapy and during fluoroscopy-guided  interventions, also warrants reinforced oversight.

From left to right : Sylvie CADET-MERCIER - Commissioner, Pierre-Franck CHEVET - Chairman, Lydie ÉVRARD - Commissioner, Margot TIRMARCHE - Commissioner, Philippe CHAUMET-RIFFAUD - Commissioner.

The general context would appear to be less worrying:

  • With regard to the carbon segregation anomaly in the steels of certain large components of nuclear power reactors, a number of important steps were taken: for the plants in operation, checks were requested on the steam generators more specifically concerned, which had been manufactured in Japan, leading to the early shutdown of 12 reactors one year ago. As for the EPR reactor pressure vessel, reinforced in-service checks will be required and the closure head should be replaced before the end of 2024.
  • The review of all manufacturing files at the Creusot Forge plant is taking place satisfactorily: this review, requested by ASN, aims to detect any irregularities, notably the poten- tial falsification of manufacturing documents. ASN will be vigilant in ensuring that this review, scheduled for the end of 2018, is seen through to completion and that all relevant lessons are learned.
  • EDF and Areva have completed their reorganisation and their recapitalisation: their full deployment should enable these companies to regain the financial and technical capability they need to address the challenges facing them today. ASN will pay particularly close attention to this.

Unprecedented challenges face all the nuclear stakeholders. To a large extent, they were foreseeable:

  • The nuclear industrial fleet was built about forty years ago, or even slightly before as concerns the CEA research facilities: the question today arises of extending the lifetime of these ageing facilities. It implies the examination of three subjects: compliance with their original design and construction base- lines, management of ageing phenomena and improvements bringing them closer to today’s safety baselines. These three subjects are technically complex and essential for safety; they require a strong industrial commitment.
  • New nuclear facilities are currently underconstruction: whether the Flamanville EPR reactor, the Jules Horowitz reactor or the ITER project in Cadarache are concerned, there have been numerous difficulties and significant delays, mainly owing to the lack of design and construction experience.

There is another major issue: the lessons learned from the Fukushima Daiichi accident. This led to a large number of safety reinforcements on all French nuclear facilities; nonetheless major works will still be needed in the coming years.

Against this backdrop, ASN considers that vigilance is required to ensure that the operating safety of the large installations and radiation protection in the industrial and medical fields are maintained at a satisfactory level, with particular attention being paid to the detection of incidents, their notification and their processing, all of which are key factors in the continuous improvement of safety.

For the medium and long term, ASN has two messages:

  • The electrical system must have sufficient margin to be able to deal with a generic anomaly affecting the NPP fleet. ASN already issued an opinion on this point in 2013: the French fleet is standardised and this feature was an advantage not only in terms of safety, but also in economic terms. Maintai- ning this advantage presupposes, on the one hand, continuing to detect anomalies as early as possible and, on the other, preparing to deal with the combined shutdown of several nuclear reactors concerned by a major anomaly.
  • A lasting solution must be found for high and intermediate level, long-lived waste: existing or future surface and even sub-surface interim storage facilities are able to manage this waste in the short to medium term, but not on the time-scale of several hundred thousand years, the period for which they are harmful. Over time-scales such as these, nobody can guarantee the existence of the human and societal control necessary to maintain the safety of a sub-surface facility. The internationally adopted reference solution for long-term management is deep geological disposal. This is the solution chosen by France, which has also determined that a repo- sitory such as this must be reversible for a period of about a century. The Cigéo project, for which the safety options constitute significant progress, is designed to address this need. Its creation authorisation application should be sub- mitted in 2019.

In this context made complex by safety and budget constraints, ASN has overhauled its regulation and oversight strategy: its aim is to focus on areas producing the greatest benefit for the protection of humans and the environment, taking account of both the risks inherent in the activities and the behaviour of those responsible for them. Conversely, for situations considered to be positive, ASN must be able to explicitly scale back its regulation and oversight.

Over the past three years, ASN and IRSN were granted additional resources. ASN is fully conscious of the efforts made in this respect by the Government and by Parliament. However, it reaffirms the need for reforms in the financing of the regulation and oversight of nuclear safety and radiation protection, which would enable it in the future to have access to resources that could be easily adapted to its needs.

Date of last update : 28/06/2018