November 28, 2014 / 4:15 PM / 6 years ago

IAEA recommends France raises funds, workforce for nuclear safety

PARIS (Reuters) - French nuclear watchdog ASN got a clean bill of health from an International Atomic Energy Agency-led peer review on Friday, although the report highlighted the need for more staff and money in the future.

View of the cooling towers at the Golfech nuclear plant on the edge of the Garonne river between Agen and Toulouse, southwestern France. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

France, the world’s most nuclear-reliant country, gets three quarters of its electricity from 58 reactors operated by state-owned utility EDF.

As the reactors age, approaching 40-years old in the next decade, ASN will need more frequent safety checks requiring more staff and funds, both hard to obtain given government budget constraints.

“While they are currently able to meet their regulatory mandate based on the current resources that they have, they need to address future needs,” Mark Satorius, executive director for operations of the U.S. nuclear watchdog, the NRC, told reporters.

The head of ASN, Pierre-Frank Chevet, has regularly warned officials of the need to increase the authority’s budget and workforce, but has so far obtained only a fraction of its estimates.

ASN employs 1,000 staff and Chevet said it needed to increase that to 1,200 as soon as possible to face the increased workload of the incoming 40-year review of French reactors.

“We were given an extra 30 positions over the next three years by the government. We say ‘thanks’, we understand the budget constraints, but that’s not enough,” Chevet told reporters.

Chevet also called for a new tax on nuclear operators that would be ringfenced for nuclear safety.

The IAEA mission, which did not disclose the draft report to reporters, also identified issues in need for improvement in the regulatory framework for the control of medical exposure to radiation and in “processes needed to deliver ASN’s mandate.”

The NRC’s Satorius said this was about managing priorities and ensuring a strong safety culture among employees.

“Safety culture has to do with having an organization where the members feel free to come forward with problems and voice those problems to management without fear of being retaliated against,” Satorius told Reuters.

The review, the second such exercise since ASN was created in 2006, was conducted by a team of 22 experts from 17 member countries of the IAEA who interviewed French officials and visited sites in a 12-day mission.

The final report will be given to the French government and made public in about three months.

Reporting by Michel Rose Editing by Jeremy Gaunt

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