The Golfech nuclear power plant in southwestern France, February 9, 2023 (AFP / Matthieu RONDEL)
Setback for the government: the National Assembly rejected on Wednesday at first reading the controversial nuclear safety reform, some voices of the majority joining the left to oppose the “dismantling” of the Institute dedicated to safety (IRSN) .
The executive would like to found the Institute for Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN), a technical expert, within the Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN), the policeman of the power stations.
But the deputies approved by a show of hands an amendment by Benjamin Saint-Huile, of the independent group Liot, to preserve a “dual organization” between the Institute and the Safety Authority, unraveling the whole of this sensitive article of the draft nuclear revival law.
However, the subject is not closed. The government can still resort to a second deliberation.
Demonstration by members of the Institute for Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety against the disappearance of IRSN in Paris on March 13, 2023 (AFP/Thomas SAMSON)
And the debates on the rest of the bill were extended until Friday evening at the Palais Bourbon, before a solemn vote on Tuesday March 21, decided in the evening the conference of presidents, which brings together the leaders of the political groups and the principal officials of the Assembly.
The parliamentary shuttle will then continue.
“We proposed to the Senate, given the importance of the subject, to have a second reading”, thus warned the Minister of Energy Transition Agnès Pannier-Runacher.
IRSN employees are cautious. “I am very happy, but I am wary of my joy because it is not won yet. The government must hear this rejection”, underlines François Jeffroy, representative of the inter-union.
Monday, during a third day of strike, hundreds of IRSN employees marched near the Assembly, with slogans like “IRSN dismantled, nuclear safety sold off”.
– “Precipitation” –
In the hemicycle, the left protested against the “rush” of a reform “in the hussar”, a “dangerous proposal” according to the ecologist and former minister Delphine Batho.
It is a “regular dismantling. We need this independence of research, within the IRSN”, insisted the Insoumise Aurélie Trouvé.
Maud Bregeon during the first reading of the nuclear bill at the National Assembly, in Paris on March 13, 2023 (AFP / Ludovic MARIN)
A few majority voices, including former minister Barbara Pompili (Renaissance), also stepped up.
“Without any impact study”, “it’s madness to throw it at us like that”, she said. “I am shocked”.
Agnès Pannier-Runacher replied to her directly by addressing her: “you know perfectly well that this reform and this questioning were already underway a few months ago”.
And “there is no change, at any time, of any line of our nuclear safety procedures”, she hammered.
Macronist rapporteur Maud Bregeon also stressed that after the possible merger, “decision and expertise within ASN will continue to be separated exactly as they are today”.
The MoDem, divided on the subject, wanted to propose a compromise amendment with a parliamentary monitoring committee for the reform.
The LRs, “a little surprised about the form”, rather look at the merger with a good eye, “pledge of efficiency” to “streamline the procedures”, according to deputy Jérôme Nury. “The sky will not fall on nuclear safety,” he reassures.
“Not opposed in principle”, the RN had mentioned an abstention by considering the subject “not successful”.
The disappearance of the IRSN was decided during a “nuclear policy council” around Emmanuel Macron on February 3. It was announced on February 8 and then introduced by a simple amendment adopted in committee at the Assembly.
Objective: “to streamline ASN’s review and decision-making processes to respond to the growing volume of activities linked to the revival of the sector”, with the six new EPR reactors that the government wants to build by 2035 .
This merger did not appear in the text, during the broad adoption in the Senate of the nuclear stimulus bill at the end of January.
This dual ASN/IRSN system was created in the early 2000s. At IRSN and its 1,800 engineers, doctors, geologists, etc., expertise and research on safety. At the ASN and its 500 agents, the decision, fed by the expertise of the IRSN, for example when a defect is observed on a plant or that a site must be authorized.
© 2023 AFP
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