by André-Claude LACOSTE
Paris, March 6th, 2007
For the French Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN), the year 2006 was marked by two important nuclear laws being passed, one of which brought about a major change in its status. The year was a relatively satisfactory one with regard to nuclear safety, although the picture was more contrasted concerning radiation protection: in this area, more particularly in the medical field, the overall impression of good progress is offset by the declaration of a number of radiotherapy accidents. Given the benefits expected from radiotherapy treatment by the patient suffering from cancer, the conditions in which this activity is carried out are a subject of major concern for ASN, in the light of the serious risks linked to patient over-exposure.
With regard to nuclear installations, the operating results achieved by EDF’s nuclear power plants is relatively satisfactory in terms of radiation protection, environmental protection and equipment condition. However, despite operational stringency, the efforts made by EDF have not yet borne the expected fruit. ASN considers that CEA has made progress in safety, but that its strategy in these areas must be comprehensive and transparent. ASN is satisfied with the operation of the nuclear installations of the AREVA group, while noting that progress is expected with regard to the whole area of waste management and dismantling of old installations. Finally, the ASN issues a positive opinion of ANDRA’s management of the radioactive waste disposal facilities and its research work concerning the Bure site.
In the medical field, ASN feels that the importance of radiation protection management in the medical risks equation is moving in the right direction, particularly owing to greater involvement by learned societies and professional organisations and associations. However, overexposure of radiotherapy patients in hospitals in Epinal and Lyon show that serious efforts still need to be made in the medical field, more particularly with regard to organisational and human
factors. At the same time, ASN can see significant progress in incident declaration in this sector. This progress is without doubt the result of a combination of new legislative requirements concerning patient rights and ASN’s inspections and awareness-raising campaigns.
In the industrial field except the nuclear industry, characterised by a large number of extremely diverse applications and users, ASN considers that efforts to ensure operational stringency and radiation protection training and awareness-raising must be continued.
2006 was naturally marked by the passing of law 2006-686 of 13 June concerning nuclear transparency and safety, known as the “TSN law”. This law achieves major progress on three key points.
Firstly, it improves transparency concerning nuclear safety and radiation protection by setting up a right for the public to access information on these matters that is in the possession of the nuclear licensees and those in charge of transporting radioactive materials.
It then overhauls the legislative foundations of the safety of nuclear installations and radioactive material transports. Finally, it consolidates the legitimacy of ASN by giving it the status of an independent administrative authority. For ASN this change in status is a major one, but is also the continuation of work begun several years ago to organise coherent and integrated supervision of nuclear safety and radiation protection in France.
At a legislative level, the other important event is the multiyear sectorial estimates law 2006-739 of
28 June concerning sustainable management of radioactive materials and waste. This law, to which ASN contributed by submitting a recommendation to the Government on 1 February and by preparing a radioactive materials and waste management plan, is a key step in the policy of radioactive waste management in France. It is based on fifteen years of research started by the 31 December 1991 law, known as the “Bataille” law, and closely monitored by the Parliamentary office for the assessment of scientific and technological options (OPECST). It confirms the fact that disposal in deep geological formations is the reference solution for high-level, long-lived waste in France. It also provides a true roadmap for management of all radioactive waste, regardless of its nature and origin.
It is also worth noting that considerable progress was made in the process of harmonising national approaches to nuclear safety in 2006. The Western European Nuclear Regulators Association (WENRA) finalised its reports on a common approach and formally approved that applicable to power reactors. These reports, to which the ASN made a significant contribution, were made public and presented to Brussels on
9 February 2006. On the basis of these documents, defining reference levels for nuclear safety, each country will by 2010 be required to revise its technical regulations and practices and harmonise them. With this in mind, the ASN has already begun work to incorporate these levels into the French regulations.
The context in which ASN is working is marked by the emergence of projects to build new nuclear installations, such as the EPR reactor on the Flamanville site, the George Besse II ultracentrifuge enrichment plant on the Tricastin site, or the ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) facility on the Cadarache site. ASN’s role is to ensure that for any new project, the licensee endeavours to attain a very high level of nuclear safety and has the corresponding necessary technical and financial capabilities.
With regard to provision of information to the publiC, ASN considers that the year 2006 was a very fruitful one, in particular in terms of its relations with the media. Its new status and the requirements of the TSN law concerning public access to the information in the possession of the licensees, further enhanced ASN’s role in this area and suggests that there will be new prospects and issues in 2007.
It should also be pointed out that in order to obtain an objective outside view of its activities, ASN asked the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to organise a peer review by the IRRS (Integrated Regulatory Review Service). The report on the review, which ran from 5 to 17 November, is available on ASN’s website www.asn.fr. The overall impression is a positive one, reflecting satisfactory general working on the part of ASN, underpinned by a sound and solid base.
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