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The Nuclear Safety Authority has once again singled out the Gravelines nuclear power plant in the North, the most powerful in Western Europe, for its performance in 2021 in terms of nuclear safety and radiation protection. For the second year in a row, the French nuclear “gendarme” considers that the performance of this plant “falls behind in terms of nuclear safety and radiation protection compared to the general assessment that ASN has of the nuclear power plants of EDF”, according to a press release issued after a press conference Thursday from its Lille division.

Good performance in environmental protection

On the other hand, the plant’s performance in terms of environmental protection, also deemed unsatisfactory by the ASN last year, is in line with the general assessment this time. “Nuclear safety performance has not improved in 2021, particularly in terms of the rigor of intervention”, specifies the ASN, pointing to “inappropriate practices or behavior” in this plant, including the six 900 MW reactors were put into service between 1980 and 1985.

She cites the example of an agent who checked his visit to a room in advance but did not go there. The start of a leak was taking place in this room and was therefore not observed until the next day, leading to the shutdown of a reactor. For radiation protection, the ASN considers that “the situation remains degraded and that the site is still unable to restore a satisfactory level”.

A year 2021 marked by “significant extensions of shutdown times”

In 2021, the supervisory authority identified eleven significant events, classified as level 1 on the international scale of nuclear events, including one in terms of radiation protection. ASN also notes that 2021 was marked by “significant extensions of the outage times for maintenance and reactor fuel renewal”. However, in these different areas, an enhanced inspection carried out in 2022 showed that “lights were turning green”, thanks to better connections between management and the field.

“Gravelines is rather at the end of the pack but has not picked up,” said Rémy Zmyslony, head of the Lille division of ASN. “The level of requirements demanded by the ANS is high: it is not because the results are below average that the plant is not safe”. Following its fourth ten-year inspection, completed in April, and a public inquiry to be held at the end of 2022-beginning of 2023, ASN will have to authorize or not the continuation of operation of reactor 1 beyond 40 years.

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