A French parliamentary commission, set up in January 2018 to look at the safety and security of nuclear installations, says in a report published on July 5 that nuclear plants remain vulnerable to accident and attack.1
"French nuclear installations seem to suffer from an original flaw that will be difficult to remedy: they were not designed to withstand terrorist-like aggression," the commission says. Its report identifies several risks including plane crashes, drone incursions, internal sabotage, external intrusions and cyber attacks.
EDF said in a statement that it is committed to "a process of continuous improvement".2 However the evidence suggests that EDF has been slow to act. The parliamentary commission was established in part in response to a series of Greenpeace actions highlighting inadequate security at nuclear plants. According to the commission, Greenpeace has conducted 14 intrusion attempts in order to demonstrate the vulnerability of French nuclear sites over the past 30 years. And on July 3, Greenpeace once again demonstrated inadequate security by flying drones into the Bugey nuclear power plant and crashing one of them into the spent fuel building.3,4
To reduce security risks, the commission recommends:
- Putting more police on the ground at nuclear sites.
- Reducing the predictability of transporting radioactive material by adjusting departure dates and times, and itineraries where possible.
- Creating a parliamentary delegation for civilian nuclear power whose members (four deputies and four senators) would have de jure access to classified information on security and safety matters.
The commission says the number of safety incidents in France "has risen steadily", citing as examples last year's temporary shutdown of the four reactors at a plant in Tricastin, and an explosion in the non-nuclear section of the Flamanville power plant. The commission also discusses the long-running quality-control scandal at AREVA's Creusot Forge plant involving manufacturing flaws and falsification of documentation.
The commission highlights the risks associated with outsourcing in the nuclear industry, noting that 80% of tasks, both for operation and maintenance, are outsourced to contractors. This leads to a loss of competence within EDF. The report blames the fall of a 450-tonne steam generator during maintenance at the Paluel 2 reactor on problems with cooperation between EDF and its subcontractors (the reactor has been offline since the May 2015 incident). One of the commission's recommendations is to reduce reliance on subcontractors.
EDF's pipe-welding fiasco at its partially-built Flamanville EPR reactor, first revealed in February 2018, also illustrates the subcontracting problem. An estimated 35% of the pipe welds that connect the steam generator to the turbine have defects. The commission notes that this problem has significant consequences in terms of cost, schedule and safety.
The commission criticizes the industry's "ruling out rupture" concept ‒ the assumption that malfunctioning can be ruled out for some key nuclear components. "There are no emergency procedures for certain types of accidents because they are assumed to be impossible," it says.
The commission recommends accelerating the implementation of evacuation plans to replace current plans, which are limited to the closest residents.
The commission says France's Cigeo deep geologic repository project in Bure, northeastern France, has "certain vulnerabilities" including the risk of an underground fire that cannot be contained. It recommends continuing to study the option of long-term subsurface storage as a possible alternative to geological disposal.
The commission questions, on safety grounds, the heavy reliance on pool storage of spent nuclear fuel (including EDF's proposed centralized pool project). It recommends that dry storage should to be considered whenever possible, and that as much spent fuel as possible should be transferred from pool storage to dry storage.
The commission raises a series of concerns about spent fuel reprocessing and says that relevant parties should consider whether or not to continue reprocessing.
The commission recommends strengthening the powers of the French nuclear regulator, the ASN, and giving it (like most of its foreign counterparts) powers of injunction and sanctions.
The commission also recommends that ASN should be asked to apply its legal powers and to impose pecuniary sanctions and financial constraints when its decisions are not respected by nuclear operators.
And the commission recommends that ASN publish the schedule for monitoring prescriptions as well as the amount of fines and financial penalties.
The commission raises familiar problems about unrealistically low estimates of the cost of decommissioning France's aging fleet of reactors, and inadequate provisions for decommissioning. It recommends establishing a national commission responsible for the control and supervision of decommissioning expenses, expenses related to waste management, and expenses arising from accidents. The commission also recommends that nuclear operators should be required to ensure that provisions for decommissioning are sufficiently liquid.
1. National Assembly, 28 June 2018, Report of the Commission of Inquiry on the Safety and Security of Nuclear Facilities, www.assemblee-nationale.fr/15/rap-enq/r1122-tI.asp
2. NucNet, 6 July 2018, 'Commission Calls For Safety Improvements At France's Nuclear Power Stations', www.nucnet.org/all-the-news/2018/07/06/commission-calls-for-safety-impro...
3. Geert De Clercq, 3 July 2018, 'Greenpeace crashes Superman-shaped drone into French nuclear plant', https://af.reuters.com/article/africaTech/idAFL8N1TZ2CT