A French government commission has called for improvements in the safety of the country’s nuclear power plants, including their ability to withstand terrorist attack, putting further pressure on state-backed power utility EDF.
The parliamentary commission set up to look at the safety and security of nuclear installations in France said, in a report published on Thursday, that the fleet remain vulnerable to accident and attack.
“French nuclear installations seem to suffer from an original flaw that will be difficult to remedy: they were not designed to withstand terrorist-like aggression,” said the report.
The report comes at a time of heightened political pressure for heavily indebted EDF, which operates France’s nuclear fleet and faces a multi-billion euro bill to extend the life of ageing plants.
EDF defended itself on Thursday, saying in a statement that safety has been its “priority right from the start” and it is committed to “a process of continuous improvement.
The nuclear-focused company is battling to prove the viability of its next-generation European Pressurised Reactor while having to demonstrate its commitment to renewable energy.
Although an EPR is now coming online in China, EDF is waiting for its Flamanville plant in France, which is seven years late and €7bn over budget, to start up. A recently discovered problem with weldings has increased uncertainty.
EDF’s EPR projects in Finland and at Hinkley Point, south-west England, are also running late and over budget.
According to the parliamentary report, the NGO Greenpeace has, over the last 30 years, “conducted 14 intrusion attempts in order to demonstrate the vulnerability” of the French nuclear sites.
The commission put forward 33 suggestions to improve the situation — including reducing reliance on subcontractors, putting more police on the ground at nuclear sites, reconsidering waste disposal methods, being clearer on the timeline for shutting down plants and strengthening the powers of the French nuclear regulator, the ASN.
The report comes as France is considering its energy future. A roadmap is due before the end of the year which will, among other things, set out how fast France should pursue a government target to cut nuclear’s share of domestic electricity production to 50 per cent. A timeline for a shutdown is expected.
France remains highly dependant on nuclear power, with its existing 58 reactors providing nearly three-quarters of its electricity.
However, public opinion has been turning against the industry. Ever since the 1986 meltdown at Chernobyl nuclear reactors have been battling to demonstrate their safety. The situation has become more complicated following the 2011 meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima plant, a site visited by the commission.
“After our trip to Fukushima, the main lesson is that we must never believe that the impossible will not happen. We must not rest on certainties and we must prepare,” wrote Barbara Pompili, who led the commission.
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