EDF has had to modify radioactivity control procedures in its nuclear power plants in recent days after the exercise by some employees of their right of withdrawal due to fear of contamination by the coronavirus, union and industrial sources told Reuters .
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The procedures in question relate to the measurement of the radioactivity of responders at the exit from nuclear zones, requiring employees to wear underwear in narrow portals equipped with sensors, the size of shower cubicles, which may be vectors spread of the virus. The changes implemented by EDF include cleaning the gantries at least twice in eight-hour periods, respecting safety distances between workers, washing and disinfecting hands as well as wearing gloves, according to instructions published in internal from Tuesday.
The problem " has been resolved or will be resolved very soon provided that the instructions are followed, " Thierry Raymond, CGT central union representative told Reuters. Thomas Plancot, coordinator of the nuclear trades for the CGT, said that more than a dozen stakeholders in total - the vast majority of providers - had exercised their right of withdrawal from the Fessenheim (Haut-Rhin) plants ), Civaux (Vienne) and Chooz (Ardennes) at least, including a sixty-year-old considering himself among the populations most exposed because of his age.
Regarding the containment measures taken by the government and their impact on the organization of work within the power plants, Thierry Raymond believes that there was " a flutter " at the start of the week but that " the situation is a little clearer today, with a clear distinction between employees who are teleworking and those who are necessary for operations and who still work on site ”.
The “barrier gestures” in question
" There have been explanations for the barrier gestures and it is not going too badly, " he added. An industrial source for its part confirmed that employees had exercised their right of withdrawal in at least one of the 19 power plants in the French nuclear fleet, believing for its part that the application of " barrier gestures " on site still left something to be desired, in particular with regard to safety distances, due to the gathering of employees at the time of the coffee break or lunch. This source adds, however, that these problems have little risk of having an impact on production or on plant safety. It also recognizes that the drop in staff on site over the past few days has made it easier for everyone to organize their work so as not to come across too many people during their day.
An EDF spokesperson for his part declared that the 40 reactors in the operating fleet were producing normally and that there was " no disruption linked to the virus " - the others are under maintenance. EDF, which does not communicate on the rates of absenteeism linked to the virus or on the number of proven cases among its workforce, says it has plans to operate its nuclear power plants with 25% less staff for three months and 40% less for two to three weeks. The group now only calls on-site staff responsible for piloting power plants, maintenance operations, safety activities and environmental monitoring.
" Our priority is to preserve the health of our employees and preserve the safety of our facilities ," said its CEO, Jean-Bernard Lévy, on Europe 1 on Friday. " Even in our most pessimistic plans, we believe that we will be able to produce enough electricity for all French people at any time , ”he also said.