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.
Scientific and technological research is performed in nuclear facilities in very varied fields and disciplines, including basic and applied research in physics, metallurgy, electronics, biology, climatology, simulation, chemistry and the environment. Practical nuclear research is concerned with optimising the operation and safety of French nuclear plants, radioactive waste and the development of future nuclear systems.
Research facilities are numerous and diverse. France has a fleet of experimental reactors and research laboratories that is unique in the world that are operated by the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA). The fleet is supplemented by facilities that support research (storage for materials and waste, waste treatment facilities, etc.). Among other topics, research conducted by the CEA concerns the service life of operating plants, future reactors, nuclear fuel performance and nuclear waste.
The facilities, which constitute an important tool for improving scientific knowledge and the safety of current and future reactors, also have uses in fields other than energy, such as nuclear medicine and electronics.
Research also uses sources of ionising radiation in a wide variety of applications. Radiation is produced using either radioelements in sealed or unsealed sources or electric generators. For example, radioactive tracers are used particularly in research, where they are incorporated in molecules as an investigative tool in cellular and molecular biology.
Each research facility constitutes a unique case with its own specific safety issues. It is also necessary to monitor the ageing of research facilities. Finally, the constant evolution of facilities, due to their research role, requires special monitoring and frequent updates of their safety references. These aspects are a challenge for ASN in its inspection mission.
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 worker radiation protection, ASN is responsible for verifying methods used for complying with regulatory dose limits and reducing exposure to the lowest possible level that can reasonably be achieved.