The Chairman of France’s Autorité de Sûreté Nucléaire (ASN), Bernard Doroszczuk said that 2021 revealed "industrial weaknesses" in the nuclear power plant fleet and fuel cycle facilities and underlined the need for greater inclusion of safety requirements in the debates to define energy policy.
Doroszczuk presented New Year’s greetings to the press on 19 January.
He delivered four key messages:
- The French electrical system is today faced with a two-fold weakness, primarily owing to the lack of margins and of sufficient forward planning. The first weakness concerns EDF’s nuclear reactors. An accumulation of events (both scheduled and unscheduled) led to reduced availability of the nuclear production fleet, illustrating the absolute need – as underlined by ASN on several occasions in recent years – to maintain margins in the sizing of the French electrical system, in order to prevent any conflict between safety and electricity supply issues. The second weakness concerns the “fuel cycle” industry. A series of events (delay in the construction of the EDF centralised used fuel pool; difficulties with the operation of Orano’s Melox plant; faster than expected corrosion of the evaporators in Orano’s La Hague plant), indicate a lack of forward planning and precaution, which weakens the entire “fuel cycle” chain and which could therefore undermine the operation of the NPPs if used fuel storage capacity were to become saturated.
- ASN asks that nuclear safety problems, notably with respect to forward planning and maintaining margins, be addressed immediately in energy policy choices, in the same way as the concerns surrounding the production of decarbonised electricity by the 2050 time-frame. ASN considers that energy policy choices for the 2050 time-frame must be based on robust hypotheses that are justified in terms of safety, with sufficient margins to deal with major contingencies (notably generic anomalies). It thus considers that, in the light of the foreseeable development of electrical usage, the decision to carry out the programmed final shutdown of a further 12 reactors by 2035 should be carefully weighed, barring imperative safety considerations, given the need to maintain margins for safety.
At the same time, EDF shall within the coming five years demonstrate the ability of its oldest reactors to continue to function beyond 50 years. Moreover, if the continued operation of certain reactors beyond 60 years were to be envisaged, this would entail an in-depth examination of this option no later than 2025, in order to have enough time to address the conclusions of this examination. ASN considers that the continued operation of the nuclear reactors should in no case be the result of a decision that is imposed simply on the basis of electricity demand, or one that entails safety risks.
- It is essential that the prospect of an energy policy comprising a long-term nuclear component be accompanied by an exemplary management policy for waste and legacy nuclear facilities. ASN considers that the entire sector must mobilise to implement concrete and safe management solutions for the waste from the current fleet or that inherited from past situations. The new potential energy policies, whatever they are, imply a considerable industrial effort in order to tackle the industrial and safety challenges.
- ASN considers that the skills enhancement goals, notably in professions under stress such as the engineering or mechanical sectors, as well as the objectives of increased rigorousness in project management and monitoring of activities, are steps in the right direction. These objectives will nonetheless have to be rescaled to reflect the final policy decisions. The technical capabilities of the licensees, their subcontractors and the contractors working across the sector will be one of ASN’s concerns.