French commission highlights safety concerns

11 July 2018

A French parliamentary commission report published on 5 July said France’s nuclear power plants require safety improvements, including their ability to withstand a possible terrorist attack or aircraft crash.

The commission was set up in January to examine safety and security at nuclear installations in France, including its fleet of 58 commercial nuclear power units and other nuclear facilities such as La Hague reprocessing plant. “French nuclear installations suffer from an original flaw that will be difficult to remedy: they were not designed to withstand terrorist-like aggression,” the report said. It identified several risks including plane crashes, drone incursions, internal sabotage, external intrusions and cyber attacks.

The commission suggested 33 improvements, including reducing reliance on subcontractors, putting more police on the ground at nuclear sites, reconsidering waste disposal methods, clarifying the timeline for plant closure and strengthening the powers of the Autorité de Sûreté Nucléaire (ASN – Nuclear Safety Authority). According to the report, the Cigeo repository project in Bure, northeastern France, has  'vulnerabilities' and is at risk of an underground fire that cannot be contained.
Over the last 30 years, Greenpeace has “conducted 14 intrusion attempts to demonstrate the vulnerability” of the French nuclear sites. Most recently, on 3 July, Greenpeace flew a Superman-shaped drone into the no-fly zone around  EDF's Bugey nuclear plant and crashed it against the wall of the plant's used-fuel pool building, to demonstrate its vulnerability to outside attacks.

The report also noted that 80% of tasks, both for operation and maintenance, are now outsourced to contractors in the nuclear industry, leading to a loss of competence within EDF.

EDF said the commission, which comprised pro- and anti-nuclear members, had questioned several of its executives who had replied under oath to more than 150 questions. A further 60 questions were sent to EDF in writing and answered in detail. EDF said some 2000 pages of documents were submitted to the commission and three days of visits were organised to the Gravelines, Tricastin and the Flamanville 3 nuclear sites.  

EDF stressed that safety has been its “priority right from the start” and said it is committed to continuous improvement. The summary of the report does not reveal any breach of the obligations on the operator, it added.

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