Fukushima: France's EDF to add safety backups

16th September 2011, Comments 0 comments

France's nuclear power operator plans to add safety backups to its plants following the Fukushima disaster, says a report made public on Friday by the country's atomic watchdog.

In a self-assessment sought by the Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN), state-owned Electricite de France (EDF) said its plants had a "satisfactory margin" of safety to cope with an earthquake or flooding.

There is also "highly robust" assistance available if all electrical power and cooling systems fail, said EDF, which runs France's civilian nuclear power plants.

EDF added, though, that it envisaged several additional measures in the wake of the March 11 accident at Fukushima in Japan.

These include installing self-running pumps to drive reactor coolant if external power fails; large reserves of water to cool a damaged reactor; "last-ditch" generators to provide a local supply of electricity; and setting up a "Nuclear Rapid Reaction Force" capable of being deployed anywhere in France within 24 hours.

The results of the so-called stress-test were placed on the ASN website on Friday along with those from other major nuclear operators, including research centres, in France.

They had been asked by the ASN to carry out "additional safety evaluations" following the Fukushima disaster. Risk factors taken into account include earthquakes, flooding, loss of electrical power and reactor coolant, occurring either separately or together.

"We wanted to go beyond current scenarios and find additional defences," Jean-Marc Miraucourt, director of nuclear engineering at EDF, told a press conference, explaining the plan would take "several years" to be carried out.

The giant also signalled it would restrict its chain of sub-contractors in order to keep a tighter grip on safety.

At present, it uses up to eight levels of sub-contractors, meaning that there can be as many as eight companies, respectively contracted to each other in a chain, working on a service or project signed by the EDF.

This will be cut to a maximum of three levels, Miraucourt said.

The 7,000-page document involved several hundred EDF engineers and took three months to compile, EDF said.

An anti-nuclear group, L'Observatoire du nucleaire, said the EDF report was a show of "indecent smugness" that had no objective value because it was self-penned.

It said that plants at Fessenheim, eastern France, and Tricastin, in the southeast, were dangerously exposed to over-heating if the canals from which they drew their coolant suffered breached banks or water loss.

It also noted that the only access road to a plant in the Gironde region of southwestern France was flooded by a super-storm that struck Europe in December 1999, "proving that nothing can be planned for the unexpected."

The self-written stress-test reports, placed online at www.asn.fr, will be analysed by the ASN by the end of the year.

France is the world's most nuclear-dependent country. Its 58 reactors, most of them built after the oil shocks of the 1970s, account for 75 percent of its electricity supply.

A massive tsunami, triggered by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake, flooded the Fukushima Daiichi plant in northeastern Japan, knocking out the main power and backup generators used to circulate reactor coolant.

Three of the six reactors went into meltdown, and a series of blasts within the reactor buildings themselves spewed radiation into the environment, forcing tens of thousands to evacuate in a 20-kilometre (12-mile) radius.

© 2011 AFP

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