Activities monitored by ASN

The activities monitored by ASN are: the nuclear facilities for electricity productions, the civil research installations, the waste and decommissioned facilities, the transport of radiactive materials and the medical centre using radioactive sources.

Electricity Production

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.

ASN’s role

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.

Other industry activities

Industry has long used sources of ionising radiation in a wide variety of applications and locations. Radiation is produced either by radioelements--essentially artificial--in sealed or unsealed sources or by electric generators. For example, its uses include:

  • industrial irradiation for sterilisation of medical devices and food preservation;
  • industrial radiography used in non-destructive inspection techniques such as gamma radiography for inspecting defects in welds;
  • monitoring parameters (dust in the air, basis weight of paper, fluid level, soil density or humidity, logging, etc.);
  • radioactive tracers, particularly in research where they are incorporated in molecules as a tool for investigation in cellular and molecular biology;
  • measurement of wear, detection of leaks and friction, construction of hydrodynamic models and in hydrology;
  • electric generators of X-rays to inspect merchandise containers or in explosion radiography programmes.

Industry also needs nuclear facilities that are not directly related to nuclear power for producing radiopharmaceuticals, processing and packaging low activity waste and nuclear maintenance activities.

Safety issues

The primary issue in the use of sources is to monitor that the safety of workers, the public and the environment is properly assured. This effort is complex to the extent that, not only are sources varied, but they, like their users, are quite numerous (approximately 30,200 sealed sources for 6,000 users).

It is thus important to be able to follow the conditions for storage, use and disposal of sources from the manufacturing stage to the end of service life.

ASN’s role

Issuing and renewing authorisations to store and use sources of ionising radiation constitutes an important part of ASN’s work. In examining these cases, ASN may turn to the expertise of IRSN and, if necessary, to organisations that it recognises as competent in the fields of radionuclide source safety and electric generators of ionising radiation.

ASN also performs inspections that depend both on the nature of these sources and the stage of manufacture and use. For unsealed sources, which may be considered as “perishable”, the user monitors non-contamination and environment. ASN may also perform this type of inspection.

In industry, ASN pays special attention to the use of gamma radiography and accelerator devices.

Research activities

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.

Safety issues

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.

ASN’s role

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.

Medical uses

For more than a century, medicine has used, both for diagnosis and therapy, varied sources of ionising radiation produced either by electric generators or radionuclides. The field is large and diversified, as France has approximately 50,000 facilities for medical and dental diagnostic radiology, around 300 nuclear medicine departments and nearly 400 radiotherapy devices. Overall, these facilities perform nearly 70 million radiological procedures each year.

Major medical techniques that rely on ionising radiation are radiology, radiotherapy and nuclear medicine:

  • Radiology, and radiological diagnosis in particular, includes all techniques for morphological exploration of the human body using X-rays produced by electric generators. Holding a dominant position in the field of medical imaging, it covers diverse fields (medical radiology, dental radiology, etc.) and a wide variety of examinations (chest and abdominal radiography, etc.).
  • Radiotherapy is, along with surgery and chemotherapy, one of the major techniques used in the treatment of malignant tumours. In France, some 200,000 patients receive treatment each year. Radiotherapy uses ionising radiation to destroy malignant cells. Ionising radiation necessary for treatment is produced either by an electric generator or emitted by sealed radionuclides.
  • Nuclear medicine includes all uses of radionuclides in unsealed sources for diagnosis or therapy. Diagnostic uses cover in vivo techniques that involve administering radionuclides to the patient and applications that are exclusively in vitro. They are used to study organ morphology (research in cerebral or bone metastases) and their function (metabolism of a gland, research into myocardial function, etc.).

Safety issues

After exposure to natural radiation, exposure for medical reasons constitutes the second source of exposure for the population and the primary source of exposure from artificial sources.

For workers and the public, the nature and significance of risks from the use of such sources vary according to whether radioactive sources are sealed or unsealed, devices for electrical generation of X-rays used for medical and dental diagnosis or particle accelerators for external radiotherapy. The sources must be used in compliance with safety rules set by the labour code to protect workers and rules in the public health code to protect the public and patients.

ASN’s role

In the area of medical applications, ASN performs or has certified organisations perform inspections of radiation protection at facilities for radiology, radiotherapy, brachytherapy, nuclear medicine and irradiators of blood products. These inspections regularly evaluate the safety of the facilities to verify the radiation level with regard to current regulations, and to strengthen it as needed.

Inspections performed by ASN directly in facilities for radiotherapy, brachytherapy and nuclear medicine are part of delivery procedures (inspections prior to operation) or renewal (periodic inspections) for authorisation to store and use radiation sources.

Transport of radioactive materials

Each year, approximately 900,000 packages of radioactive materials are transported in France, representing a small percentage of shipments of hazardous materials. The largest share (two-thirds) consists of radioisotopes for medical, pharmaceutical or industrial use: this is the case for radioactive sources used for technical inspection in construction (inspection for lead paint) and industry (use of gamma radiography for weld inspection, onsite density inspection, etc.).

The packages vary widely. Their radioactivity, which can differ by more than twelve orders of magnitude, or from several thousand becquerels (pharmaceutical packages) to trillions of becquerels (irradiated fuel), and their weight from several kilograms to a hundred tonnes.

Varied sectors and origins

The sectors in which packages are used are also very diverse. It involves the nuclear sector, as well as medicine, traditional industry and research. The latter together account for 85% of packages of radioactive materials. The nuclear power cycle industry requires transportation of various radioactive materials. Annually, the largest share involves nearly 300 shipments of new fuel, 250 for irradiated fuel, thirty for MOX fuels and sixty for plutonium oxide powder.

The transportation may also be international, as some of this material may transit through France: packages of irradiated fuel from Switzerland destined for Sellafield in Great Britain may be loaded at the port of Dunkirk.

Another source of international shipments are plants in France for uranium enrichment, nuclear fuel fabrication and reprocessing and manufacturers of radioisotopes for medical use which have commercial ties to foreign organisations.

Safety issues

Shipment of radioactive materials must be transported under safety conditions with a satisfactory level of protection for workers and the public from the effects of radioactivity. Monitoring poses special difficulty to the extent that the process concerns a large number of shipments, packages are shipped in varying sizes (from several cubic meters for power plant fuel and several cubic centimetres for material for medical use) and the diversified nature of the radioactive material that is shipped (some are very radioactive and others only slightly). A failure to follow instructions of a certificate of approval for a package or to observe conditions for package use could result in exposure of workers and the public to doses that exceed regulatory limits.

To the extent that the public can be directly affected by events concerning the shipment of radioactive material, ASN's requirements must be particularly strict.

ASN’s role

ASN has been responsible for inspecting civilian shipments of radioactive material since June 1997. In this regard, it:

  •  participates in preparing international regulations;
  •  examines and delivers shipment authorisations and certifications;
  •  monitors in normal and emergency situations using inspections and regularly organising emergency exercises;
  •  makes available and organises information to the public.

Waste / decommissioned facilities

Radioactive waste management

General diagram of the nuclear fuel cycle stage

Specific dispositions has to be implemented to manage safely radioactive waste. In France, according to the latest national inventory of materials and waste published by Andra in June 2012, this waste originates mostly from nuclear industry (around 60%). However, it also results from the research in nuclear installations, and use of radioactive items in hospitals, universities, certain non-nuclear industries and defence-related activities. Each type of waste requires specially adapted processing and a long-term management solution to control the risks posed, especially the radiological risk. In France, each waste category has a management solution which includes a series of operations such as sorting, processing, packaging, storage and disposal.

The 2006 “Planning act” for sustainable management of radioactive materials and waste requires elaboration every three years of a national plan for management of radioactive materials and waste. This national Plan, drafted by ASN and the General directorate for energy and climate (DGEC) is submitted to the parliament and published. It draws up a periodic assessment of radioactive substances management. In addition it sets milestones and defines studies to be carried out in order to improve existing management routes and define new ones. This plan requires that management routes shall be defined for every type of waste, whatever are its activity, its lifetime, its origin.

Around 90% of the volume of radioactive waste produced already has a long-term management solution (mainly very low level waste and low and intermediate level short-lived waste). Other waste is packaged and stored in secure facilities while a long-term management solution is sought. in terms of radioactivity, more than 90% of radioactive waste is located at the La Hague site in northwest France and to a lesser extent at the Marcoule site in the south of the country.

ASN’s role

ASN prepares and reviews regulation pertaining to the management of radioactive waste, takes part of licensing process and monitors the safety of basic nuclear installations that produces waste or are involved in waste management (treatment, packaging, storage and disposal). Il also performs inspections in sites where waste are produced or managed (EDF, Orano, Andra and CEA basic nuclear installations but also in hospitals, research centres, etc.).

In addition, ASN monitors the overall system set up by Andra for accepting waste from producers, assesses strategies defined by operators to manage safely their waste and the dedicated assets they define in order to cover the future cost of decommissioning of their facilities and of management of their spent fuel and radioactive waste.

Dismantling nuclear facilities

The civilian nuclear industry in France first started to grow in the 1960's. Several facilities built during that period are at the end of their service life and are no longer producing or used for research. As part of their dismantling, they will undergo a series of remediation and deconstruction operations.

In 2010, more than thirty nuclear facilities, including eight reactors from EDF's first nuclear power fleet, are currently in the permanent shutdown and dismantling phase.

Dismantling nuclear facilities usually requires lengthy operations that are challenges for the operators in terms of project management, continued proficiency and coordination of various work efforts. Radioactive material must be removed and the facility dismantled and cleaned up. These operations present special issues in terms of dosimetry, since workers must be in frequent contact with equipment that contains radioactive substances in order to dismantle it; management of radioactive waste, which is produced in much greater quantities than during the operation phase; traditional risks to the extent that certain dismantling operations are part of deconstruction work performed by the construction industry; risks related to the loss of design and operating plans and loss of proficiency; risks related to inadequate monitoring that can lead to long-term pollution of the site or its surroundings.

ASN’s role

The safety of these facilities in the dismantling process rests first with verification by the operator of the facility. In this framework, ASN monitors each facility that the organisation and methods adopted by the operator are sufficient to exercise this responsibility. In addition to individual dismantling of each facility, ASN monitors that overall strategies of producers are part of a consistent approach for taking into account safety and radiation protection constraints. The significant nature of current dismantling programmes requires rigorous planning that takes into account all parameters related to safety and radiation protection: facility ageing, work strategy, choice of technical scenario and safety priorities.