Nukewatch Quarterly Winter 2014
In a highly unusual attack, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) issued a report Nov. 28 critical of France’s nuclear industry. The stury hints that France’s aging power reactors, 58 of them, are growing dangerously in need of additional oversight. Additionally, a US expert suggested that France’s nuclear power community needed to do more to protect whistle blowers from retaliation.
The French reactor complex is operated by the state-owned utility Electricité de France. The utility is in turn regulated by a federal watchdog agency—rather like the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission—known as “ASN.” The IAEA’s criticism “highlighted the need for more staff and money in the future,” Reuters said.
The IAEA’s mission within the United Nations is to promote the expansion of nuclear power worldwide, so it is loath to issue public criticism of anyone’s nuclear reactor operations.
The head of ASN, Pierre-Frank Chevet, “has regularly warned the government of the need to increase the authority’s budget and workforce, but has so far obtained only a fraction of its estimates,” Reuters said. “We were given an extra 30 positions over the next three years by the government. We say ‘thanks’… but that’s not enough.” Chevet told reporters he needed at least 170 more inspectors “as soon as possible.”
The urgency is related to the nearly 40-year-old reactors’ upcoming operational reviews.
The IAEA’s study group identified some needed regulatory improvements and recommended changes in “processes needed to deliver ASN’s mandate.” The NRC’s executive director for operations, Mark Satorius, said this was about something called “safety culture” among employees.
“Safety culture has to do with having an organization where the members [i.e. whistle blowers] feel free to come forward with problems and voice those problems to management without fear of being retaliated against,” Satorius told Reuters. —Reuters, Nov. 28, 2014 —JL