Climatic gas is used in La Hague NPP

According to information ReporterOn 15 December 2020, the European Commission accepted a waiver request from the Ministry of Environmental Transition on behalf of Orano [1] The goal: to allow the nuclear waste processing plant in The Hague (Channel) operated by the company to use several fire protection systems that work with extremely harmful gas for the climate until December 31, 2026.

Its production, marketing or use, called Halon 1301, is prohibited in the European Union. strictly regulated exceptions »The National Research and Security Institute reminds (INRS). Halon 1301 is used as an extinguishing gas at the Hague plant, which concentrates the most radioactivity in Europe. It is contained in bottles, it should only be released in case of fire. However, if released into the atmosphere, this substance contributes to global warming by destroying the ozone layer.

This gas is 6290 times greater than the global warming potential CHO2. Halon 1301 is one of the main greenhouse gases. After falling into the atmosphere, its evacuation is relatively long »Sophie Godin-Beekman, director of research at the National Center for Scientific Research, explains (CNRS) and president of the International Ozone Commission.

Two related workshops

This exemption granted by the European Commission only applies to the two plant workshops located in the main nuclear units 116 and 117: R4 and T4. It is within the framework of these seminars plutonium purification and conditioning »indicates Reporter Orano communication department. R4 and T4 are both equipped with fire protection systems using Halon 1301 cylinders. The exception allows the use of 2470 kg of this gas in these two shops. On the other hand, as confirmed to us by the Nuclear Safety Agency (DSC), all other plant equipment working with this substance was decommissioned. And for good reason: production of halon 1301 has been banned in the European Union since 1994 under the 1987 Montreal Protocol.

According to European regulations of 2000 [2]thus, the use of halon 1301 can only be carried out in a strictly degrading context. reviews ». These include within nuclear power plants or nuclear research facilities: protection of places where it is necessary to minimize the risk of radioactive material spillage ». Thus, initially, the Orano plant in The Hague benefited from an exemption allowing the use of fire-fighting equipment powered by halon 1301 until December 31, 2020. At this date, an alternative solution must have been found by a French multinational company. This was the case for all installations except R4 and T4 workshops.

Twenty years…for not finding a replacement for climate-killing gas

For more than two decades, Orano has not been able to find an acceptable replacement for the climate. His communications department responds halon exchange studies » We carried out on behalf of other workshops of the factory not final » For workshops R4 and T4. Thus, this new waiver request to the General Directorate of Risk Prevention in June 2020 (GDPR) of the Ministry of Ecological Transition [3]. In July 2020, this public service then sought approval from the European Commission. Orano assures pursue » New research to find alternatives to halon 1301 in R4 and T4 workshops.

The vast majority of the site’s extinguishing systems had already been modified, with the first campaigns carried out in the early 2000s. »– says the company.

According to the Deputy Director General, several alternative technical solutions for halon 1301 are available for these workshops.DSC. Wikimedia Commons/CC BYHIM 2.0 FR/Jean-Marie Taillat

Pierre Bois, Deputy Director GeneralDSCindeed admits do not be late ». It took a lot of time. It’s a job that requires much more anticipation and a much longer development and design time than planned anyway. », he adds. Pierre Bois emphasizes the special nature of these two workshops: These are critical risk [de déclencher une réaction en chaîne de fission incontrôlée] and the capture function is the most sensitive and a fortiori where it is most difficult to find an alternative solution. There are few alternative technical solutions. »

Workshops dealing with highly dangerous plutonium

However, solutions have been found for other parts of the factory. Orano informs Reporter unlike other halon extinguishing systems replaced by more functional systems FM200 ». A fluorinated greenhouse gas with a very high global warming potential. In addition, the firefighting equipment for the other two workshops is currently operational high expansion foam ».

These products are not compatible » For R4 and T4 seminars, Orano responds, due to the nature of the materials available [du plutonium] In the respective buildings of the R4 and T4 workshops, the configuration of the premises and the control of related risks ». Pierre Bois, ofDSCemphasizes important technical advantages » Halon 1301 has a lot, especially in terms of equipment safety: We cannot necessarily use the same solution every time, and workshop workers cannot be clearly transferred to the R4 and T4 workshop situation, which combines technical limitations. This will probably be another solution that should be used in these workshops. »

Until such a solution is found – and approved byDSC -, recalls Pierre Bois The granting of this exemption for halon 1301 is subject to a number of regulatory conditions. ». Therefore, an independent body carries out monitoring missions in the field to verify compliance with the conditions.

Fires have already occurred at the La Hague nuclear plant

According to a note dated July 29, passed and consulted by the French authorities Reporterat the request of the companyDSC, strengthened the monitoring control regarding the risk of leakage and emission from halon 1301 cylinders. From the end of 2021, it carried out additional inspections by weighing the cylinders, and from 2022, it carried out quarterly leak detection with a leak detector. ». No leaks were detected »Orano, who insists on this, adds the communications department the current situation has no impact on the environment. […] The current situation guarantees the safety of the installation with regard to the risk of fire ».

However, fires have already occurred at the La Hague plant. In July 2020DSC for example, he noted control of fire risks » is silent It was degraded in 2020 » on the site. Authorities wanted proof of this in a February 2020 fire on a linen storage platform inside the facility. Similarly, in October 2021, a fire broke out in the plant’s glazing workshop. Finally, in a report last MayDSC notes that all nuclear operators must make further progress in fire risk control, […] due to equipment wear, degradation and corrosion phenomena, which tend to increase ».

Pierre Bois provides that such an example requirement applies to extinguishing systems using halon 1301: Orano is required to demonstrate that the people working on these systems are trained to carry out the inspection and maintenance of the equipment. » In a decision made on July 28DSC thus creating a schedule of several steps to follow. Orano will have to submit before June 30 next year results of the halon 1301 replacement product qualification phase » For workshops R4 and T4. In addition, the company will have to submit A proven industrially feasible technical solution to replace this gas by 31 December 2023 ». Will Orano be able to do in one year what he has not been able to do in twenty years? ?

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