France must tighten nuclear security after Fukushima, watchdog says
France must urgently improve safety in its 58 nuclear reactors in the wake of Japan’s Fukushima disaster, an official report published Thursday said. The head of the French nuclear watchdog warned of “small faults that could have serious consequences”.
“The Fukushima accident, as well as the additional safety evaluation, show the necessity to develop certain safety systems of the sites without hesitation,” said Jacques Repussard, director general of the French Nuclear Safety Research Institute (IRSN).
Fukushima showed what effect a combination of natural disasters, such as floods, earthquakes and fires, can have on a nuclear reactor, he told RFI.
"When the current plants were designed, it was thought that, because precautions had been taken to protect the plant against the greatest possible seismic threat that could be calculated or estimated, a seismic event could not in itself bring a plant to failure,” Repussard says.
“Fukushima has shown the opposite, so we've proposed a new approach, which is to upgrade safety in all nuclear plants by adding a hardened safety core of equipment that would be ultraprotected against the major hazards."
The 50-page report says that no French nuclear power needs to be closed.
But it does warn that three – Tricastin, Gravelines and Saint Alban – are dangerously close either to industrial sites like chemical works or to routes where products like explosives are transported.
And it highlights the risk of earthquakes or floods to another eight.
The nuclear question has brought a note of discord into the electoral pact between France’s Socialist Party and the Greens.
The Green party this week agreed to back Socialist candidate François Hollande in return for a non-aggression pact at the next parliamentary elections and a common statement of principle on key questions, including the nuclear one.
But a commitment to reconversion of plants using a highly radioactive plutonium disappeared the following day, reportedly at Hollande’s demand after lobbying by energy company Areva.