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Safety upgrades to ensure safety French reactors

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

French authorities have laid out the improvements they want to see from the country's nuclear operators to ensure safety in case of extreme natural disasters. EdF (Electricite de France), operator of the country's 58 nuclear reactors, has six years to complete about 10 billion euros (US$12 billion) of measures to upgrade safety. Autorité de sûreté nucléaire, the French regulator, published the requirements for the industry in January and published the details on June 28.

The extensive measures to improve nuclear safety described by the Nuclear Safety Authority (Autorité de sûreté nucléaire, ASN) on June 28, affect the operations of  three organisations: EDF, which operates 58 large re-actors at 19 nuclear sites; Areva, which has fuel cycle facilities; and the CEA, which operates fuel and research facilities. 

The meltdown in Fukushima last year sparked a debate about the reliance on nuclear energy in France, which gets more than 75 percent of its electricity from nuclear power, the most in the world. In January, Autorité de sûreté nucléaire published a 524-page report on the sate of nuclear reactors in France. The report says that government-controlled power provider EDF needs to make significant upgrades "as soon as possible" to it's reactors in order to protect them from potential natural disasters. The ASN gave reactor operators until June 30 to deliver proposals meeting the enhanced safety standards of sites they run. ASN on June 28 published deadlines for measures including employing equipment such as diesel generators and bunkered control rooms, and guarding against flooding. EDF said it had "already initiated a plan of action" to comply with the requirements of the ASN.

An estimate by stateowned EDF that the measures will cost about 10 billion euros "is not improbable," Andre-Claude Lacoste, chairman of ASN told reporters. 
While safety must be "more robust," France's nuclear operators don't need to immediately shut sites, Lacoste said.

As well as thoroughly analysing external risks to nuclear facilities during planning and licensing, the operators of nuclear facilities "must be prepared to mitigate events beyond anything ever conside-red likely". 

Some 32 decisions were made on this basis by ASN, translating into 30 new regulatory requirements across the enti-rety of French nuclear infrastructure. In general, what the ASN wants in nuclear facilities is a 'hard core' of systems at each facility that are "incredibly robust and will provide essential safety services during even the most extreme circumstances."

Diesel generators for backup power have to be deployed between 2016 and the end of 2018 and bunkered control rooms and rapid response teams with specialized equipment by the end of 2014.

"No one can ever guarantee that a nuclear accident will never happen in France," Lacoste said. "We may need 10 years to completely understand what hap-pened at Fukushima." 

A 'rapid reaction force' of a different kind. French regulators have come to the conclusion that "despite the precautions taken, accidents can never be excluded." But if accidents can never be excluded, despite all precautions, then adding even more precautions does not eliminate the possibility of catastrophic releases of radioactive materials into the surrounding environment.
So prevention is only one half of the equation; the other half is coping with the consequences when things get truly out of hand. 

What is needed is a large and powerful team of experts and decision-makers outside the nuclear establishment whose sole responsibility is to provide maximum protection to living things beyond the perimeters of the afflicted nuclear facilities. This team would be dominated not by nuclear physicists and engineers but by specialists in the biomedical and environmental sciences, including agriculture, marine biology, and food sciences. These people would have the determining voice in all matters relating to the population and the environment -such as evacuation strategies; food monitoring; crop and livestock protection and monitoring; measures to minimize the spread of contamination through shoes, hair and clothing; strategies for protecting wildlife; offsite disposition of contaminated water from the stricken facilities....

EDF is also to put in place a 'rapid reaction force' of experts and engineers that can be deployed on short notice to any of its power plants around the country (see box above). They should be capable of 'intervening' during an emergency that involves several reactors at one site. The force should be in place by the end of this year and fully operational by late 2014. The company must also bring in enhanced training of its key staff to respond to major earthquakes and severe accidents.

Presenting nearly 1,000 recommendations aimed at securing French reactors, ASN chief Jean-Christophe Niel - Executive Director for Operations of ASN said: "A lot of people think that Fukushima is behind us, in fact it's ahead of us."

Sources: Bloomberg, 28 June 2012 / GlobalPost, 29 June 2012 / World Nuclear News, 29 June 2012.
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