The Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN), an independent administrative authority set up by law 2006-686 of 13 June 2006 concerning nuclear transparency and safety (known as the “TSN law”) is tasked, on behalf of the State, with regulating nuclear safety and radiation protection in order to protect workers, patients, the public and the environment from the risks involved in nuclear activities. It also contributes to informing the citizens.
France’s first nuclear power plant was built in 1956, but nuclear power did not play an important role in the country's energy sector until the oil crisis of the 1970's. Today, 78.4% of France’s electricity, or 450 TWh, is produced from nuclear power. France is also one of the few countries that possess all facilities for converting, enriching, fabricating, processing and recycling nuclear materials.
The French nuclear power industry is composed of a variety of facilities:
- Nuclear power plants: The 19 nuclear power plants currently operating in France were all built on the same model. All reactors use the same technology in which pressurised water transports heat produced by nuclear reactions. The nuclear power plants consist of 58 reactors, including 34 which individually produce 900 MegaWatts (MWe) of electrical power. There are also twenty 1300 MWe reactors and each of the remaining four reactors provide 1450 MWe. A 1600 MWe European pressurised water reactor (EPR) is currently under construction in Flamanville.
- Fuel cycle plants: They provide all operations for producing nuclear electricity from extracting uranium ore to fuel fabrication (front end) and from its use in a reactor to its processing and recycling until its final disposal (back end). These facilities are located at five sites in five different French departments. France has chosen a “closed cycle” strategy for managing nuclear fuel, which means nuclear fuel is reprocessed after use in a reactor. Reprocessing has two objectives: to extract elements (uranium and plutonium) that can be used again for the fabrication of nuclear fuel and to package final waste in a form that is compatible with long-term disposal.
The operators of these facilities have primary responsibility for their safety. Within this framework, ASN monitors that the organisation and methods adopted for each facility by the operator are sufficient to assume the responsibility. With regard to both safety and regulations, ASN also monitors overall consistency of industry decisions made concerning fuel management.