* Watchdog says EDF's Bugey, Chinon, Civaux have shortfalls
* French nuclear safety rather satisfactory overall in 2013
* Watchdog asks for more sanction powers
By Michel Rose
PARIS, April 16 France's nuclear watchdog singled out three of EDF's 19 nuclear power stations for having a below-average safety performance in its annual safety report, which also asked for more enforcement powers such as the ability to impose fines.
The watchdog said on Wednesday the state of nuclear safety in France in 2013 was satisfactory overall but said the French utility's Bugey, Chinon and Civaux plants had recurring problems that required improvements.
"These plants are not dangerous, but they have shortfalls," Pierre-Franck Chevet, head of the ASN nuclear safety authority, said at a news conference.
"The situation is overall rather satisfactory, which is a rather positive judgment, including when comparing to nuclear sites abroad, but it is a nuanced judgment, because there are still about a hundred of level-1 incidents," Chevet said.
There were 127 level-1 incidents on the 7-level International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES) in France in 2013, ASN said, and two level-2 incidents.
Level-1 incidents are minor procedural infringements and level-2 incidents can refer to cases of minor exposure to radiation.
The plant in Chinon, in western France, was below average in terms of nuclear safety and impact on the environment, he said.
"The negative aspects are linked to the discipline with which maintenance work are carried out, this is something that has been going on for a few years," Thomas Houdre, the head of the nuclear plant division of ASN, told reporters.
"Last year was a very heavy year in terms of maintenance for the site, outages lasted longer than usual, which disrupted the site's organisation," he said.
The Bugey plant near Lyon had more one-off problems related to the piloting of the site during a few weeks last summer, he said, while the Civaux plant in the west had procedure breaches, including in the reporting of incidents, Houdre said.
The watchdog also mentioned shortfalls in terms of radiation protection at Cattenom near the German border and in terms of impact on the environment at Belleville in the Loire valley, Chooz near Belgium, and Chinon.
Chevet said the ASN needed a more graduated array of sanction powers on operators such as EDF.
The watchdog can at anytime stop operations at a nuclear plant if it considers it presents a danger for the public and can also issue public warnings, but Chevet said an ability to impose fines for each day of safety breaches would be useful.
"We clearly lack intermediary sanction tools, for when shortfalls last for one, two, three years, but don't require a shutdown of the plant," he said.
The presentation to parliament of a much-delayed energy transition bill planned in July could be the opportunity to introduce such powers, he added. (Reporting by Michel Rose. Editing by Jane Merriman)