France wants an international nuclear-crisis management center that could deploy experts and specialized equipment to the scene of an atomic accident like that in Fukushima, Japan, Prime Minister Francois Fillon said.
“We want cooperation to go further,” Fillon said today during a visit to Electricite de France SA’s Bugey reactor in eastern France.
The country is also pushing for an international training center for atomic crisis management and ways to cooperate on atomic oversight and norms, he said.
France’s nuclear authority is overseeing safety audits of the country's reactors and uranium treatment facilities to determine whether they can withstand floods, earthquakes and loss of power and cooling, as happened when Japan was struck by a temblor and tsunami March 11, triggering a meltdown at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant. France depends on nuclear for about three-quarters of its power needs, the most of any country.
Operators including EDF, which runs the country’s 58 reactors, Areva SA and state-owned research body CEA must report to the watchdog by the middle of next month on how they fared during the so-called stress tests, which are being carried out across the European Union.
Fillon today called for “convergence” on safety standards around the world through structures such as the crisis management mechanism, which could be overseen by the International Atomic Energy Agency. “After Fukushima we have to reconsider every way we manage crisis,” he said. “Governments must protect their populations.”
EDF said last month that annual spending on reactor maintenance and upgrades may more than double. The utility faces increasing costs to ensure safety, on top of technical enhancements needed to prolong the lives of aging plants.
EDF needs to improve maintenance and oversight of contractors, Andre-Claude Lacoste, head of France’s Autorite de Surete Nucleaire, has said. EDF’s failure to provide timely safety assurances led to a 20-month shutdown of the Bugey Unit 3 reactor, he said at a parliamentary hearing in March.
Unit 5 of the Bugey plant is halted for a four-month safety inspection by regulators to determine whether it can operate for another decade. The site has four 900-megawatt generators that began operations in 1979 and 1980. France’s oldest nuclear reactor is located at Fessenheim and came online in 1978.
Lacoste, who was also on the Bugey visit, said today that safety at the plant was above the national average for French reactors. While Bugey’s reactors are among the oldest, their age doesn’t mean they’re unsafe, he said.
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