Radiation Protection Culture in the French Nuclear Industry


SRP Annual Conference, Llandudno, 26-28 April 2016.


Radiation Protection culture is a topic of specific interest for the French Society for Radiological Protection (SFRP). The preparation of the IRPA guiding principles for establishing a radiation protection culture, published in 2014 and endorsed by SFRP in 2015, was initially suggested and supported by SFRP, considering the importance of promoting radiation protection culture within organisations in order to ensure a good and well understood implementation of the radiological protection system [1].

The aim of this presentation is to outline some of the key components of the radiation protection culture and its role for the implementation of the ALARA principle for occupational exposure in the nuclear industry. Some elements regarding the development of RP culture within the French utility EDF and the main challenges for the future are also discussed.

IRPA guiding principles on radiation protection culture

In its guiding principles, IRPA defines the radiation protection culture as a combination of science, values and ethics as well as knowledge and experience. The aim of the development of this culture is to provide visibility to the fundamentals of the radiation protection system, promote radiation risk awareness, promote shared responsibility, maintain radiation protection legacy, facilitate its transmission and improve the quality and effectiveness of radiation protection. Its aim is also to emphasize the link with the stakeholder engagement as a key component for the successful development of the radiation protection culture with a focus on accountability, recognition of values and concerns of the stakeholders, openness and transparency. In order to ensure the sustainability of this culture, specific programmes have to be implemented in each organisation, and it is crucial to ensure its transfer to the new members of the organisations together with allowing its evolution with time.

From radiation protection culture to ALARA culture 

The radiation protection culture is a key component for the implementation of the ALARA principle as it directly influences individual as well as collective behaviour. The development of the radiation protection culture is crucial first to allow all involved people to understand the key challenges associated with exposure to ionising radiation in various types of situation and the fundamentals of radiation protection principles. This pre-requisite is essential in the perspective of their direct involvement in the evaluation of what is reasonable to achieve in terms of distribution of individual and collective exposures according to the specific exposure situation as well as in the adoption of good practices for achieving an ALARA level of protection. Taking into account the importance of sharing experience on the implementation of the ALARA principle, it has to be noticed that SFRP has organising 6 dedicated workshops on this issue, since 1994.

Recently, the European ALARA network has created a specific working group to develop a reflection on the specific role of the ALARA culture. This working group put emphasis on the importance of ALARA training, the commitment at all levels, the task planning including the prediction of doses likely to be received during specific tasks or specific exposure situations, the dose evaluation and risk estimation (potential exposure situations), and the analysis of the residual level of exposures to judge whether the level of exposure is ALARA or not [2]. It concluded that the objective of ALARA culture dissemination is to develop positive attitudes towards radiological risk at the individual and organisational level, characterized by:

  • a questioning attitude (e.g. did I do what I could to save doses? is the management committed to the introduction of new technologies to save doses or prevent accidents?,...);
  • openness and transparency (e.g. open to changing habits, reporting mishaps, explaining radiation protection options,…);
  • commitment to dose reduction (e.g. appropriate individual behaviour in the presence of radiation sources, willingness to invest in protection measures,…).

Development of the ALARA culture in the French nuclear industry

In the French nuclear industry, the development of the ALARA approach was mainly introduced at the end of the 80s and beginning of the 90s by EDF when major maintenance jobs had to be performed on the fleet, such as steam generator replacements or replacement of reactor vessel heads, contributing to a significant increase of the collective and individual doses. The implementation of a structured ‘ALARA programme’ at the corporate and plant level of the utility was thus initiated to maintain exposures at a “reasonable” level. It led to the development of training programmes aiming at developing a radiation protection culture among the different professionals involved in the preparation and implementation of maintenance activities as well as increasing the sharing of feedback experience to favour the continuous improvement of the radiological protection. The main challenge was to involve not only RP professionals in the ALARA process, but also other categories of professionals such as chemists, mechanics, planners,…, whose job has an impact on the radiation protection of exposed workers.

In addition to the training programme, a specific ALARA organisation was implemented with a strong support of the utility management. Based notably on the creation of ALARA committees and working groups dedicated to dose reduction for particular activities or professionals as well as on the allocation of responsibilities regarding RP objectives, this new organisation favoured the involvement of the various stakeholders in the elaboration of ALARA action plans for the short, medium and long term.

All these actions contributed to a significant reduction of the collective and individual exposures:

  • The collective dose decreased from 2.3 person.Sv/reactor per year in the 90s to around 0.7 person.Sv/reactor per year in 2015.
  • The average annual individual dose on the whole fleet (EDF and contractors) decreased from more than 4 mSv/y in the 90s to less than 1 mSv/y in 2015, together with a decrease of the number of highest exposed workers.

Currently, the main challenges related to radiation protection culture in the French nuclear industry are associated with three main issues: ageing of NPPs and renewal of staff, decommissioning, and design and construction of new installations.

Challenges associated with ageing of NPPs and renewal of staff 

One of the consequences of the ageing of NPPs relates in the necessary performance of more maintenance activities, with for some of them the lack of feedback experience. Furthermore, a large number of workers who where involved in the starting of the French fleet are now going into retirement.

One crucial challenge is thus to train the new generation in order to maintain and transfer the knowledge, skills and good practices. It is essential that the new staff understand the reasons behind the current practice in order to adopt a behaviour ensuring a good level of protection against ionising radiations. In this perspective, specific training and “tutorial” activities involving new and experimented workers have been elaborated to favour the transfer of the culture.

Another important factor for transferring and increasing the competences is to share the practical experience of utilities at the international level. In this way, the role of networks of utilities such as WANO[1] or ISOE[2] is of particular importance to connect people and disseminate RP good practices, notably through the organisation of RP peer reviews, international symposia, and benchmarking visits. Again, the involvement, in those activities, of the different categories of professionals involved in the operation and maintenance of NPPs is essential to share a common radiation protection culture within the organisations.

Regarding new maintenance operations, the importance of reinforcing the preparation phase has also clearly been recognized as a key issue as it contributes to share among the staff challenges and associated radiation protection issues and to anticipate as much as possible the radiation protection actions to be undertaken when performing the jobs.

The recent implementation on the French fleet of remote monitoring of radiation protection for different maintenance operations is also a challenging issue giving the possibility to improve the quality of the maintenance work, the vigilance of the exposed workers and the management of exposures. This type of tools however necessitates a new training and involvement of the workers and the changing of working methods needs to be carefully accompanied.

Challenges associated with the decommissioning of nuclear installations 

One specific characteristic of decommissioning relates in the involvement of workers and contractor’s companies which were not specialised until now in the nuclear sector. In this context, it is crucial to develop a radiation protection culture among those workers as well as to create dedicated radiation protection organisation in the new companies. The French utility has a role to play for favouring the transfer of radiation protection knowledge to these new contractors as well as to accompany and support the necessary changes of working methods aiming at incorporating radiation protection issues in decommissioning techniques applied until now in the non nuclear industry.

Another specificity of decommissioning activities relates in the constant evolution of the working environment as well as in the relative missing of feedback experience in the activities to be performed. It is then quite important to set up a step by step process allowing the adaptation of the decommissioning activities to the evolution of the installation as well as to collect, analyse and share between the contractor and the utility, the feedback experience from the technical and radiation protection point of view.

The decommissioning activities reinforce the need for an integrated approach taking into account all occupational safety issues and to allow the development of a relevant radiation protection culture even when the radiation exposure levels remain rather low. Once again, the organisation of the vigilance and the stakeholder engagement are key pillars for achieving a good level of protection.

Challenges associated with design and construction of new nuclear installations

For the development of new nuclear installations, the key challenge is to draw the lessons learned from the feedback experience in the operation and dismantling of current nuclear installations in terms of radiation protection and implementation of the ALARA principle.

It is then essential to set up a specific organisation of the design activities aiming at integrating radiation protection since the very early stage and during the whole design process. Specific radiation protection training of designers should be implemented to raise their awareness of the impact of design choices on occupational exposures, including for instance materials, equipment, arrangement of work places and future operation and maintenance rules. This type of training course should incorporate as much as possible examples from the lessons learned from previous plant operations. Involvement of radiation protection specialist in the design team is also necessary to favour the dissemination of RP culture within the team.

Concluding remarks

In summary, the aim of disseminating the radiation protection culture in the nuclear sector is to develop radiation risk awareness, to favour the understanding of the meaning of the radiation protection system, and to allow individuals to behave wisely and to make informed decisions related to radiation protection.

The main challenges for the French nuclear industry for the coming years are to ensure the transmission of the radiation protection culture to new generations of workers as well as to create the conditions to integrate the radiation protection issues in the elaboration and performance of new activities (e.g. new maintenance work and decommissioning of nuclear installations).

In addition, it is worth to mention that in the post-Fukushima context, a specific emergency response organisation has been elaborated by EDF. This organisation includes the creation of a “Nuclear Rapid Response Task Force" composed of about 300 persons, able to intervene rapidly on any site in case of an emergency situation The challenge will be to disseminate a radiation protection culture for these multidisciplinary teams, and to train them to the various aspects of occupational and public radiation protection for emergency situations.

To achieve these objectives and respond to these challenges, the main focus is on:

  • the development of adequate education and training programmes,
  • the accompaniment of new workers in the field by experimented ones to transmit adequate attitudes and behaviours regarding radiation protection,
  • the organisation of the sharing of experiences at the national and international level
  • the promotion of places of dialogue/committee allowing the expression of stakes and concerns of the exposed workers to identify ways of improvements in the practical implementation of radiation protection.

This paper has addressed the main challenges associated with RP culture for EDF. These challenges are very similar for the utilities’ contractors. Dissemination of RP culture is also a key challenge for the nuclear safety authorities in order to further take into account RP issues in their activities.

Finally, it has to be mentioned that, for the French Society for Radiological Protection, the main contributions in this domain will be to continue the organisation of dedicated workshops to share the experience on RP culture and to encourage the dissemination of the radiation protection culture among young RP professionals.


[1] IRPA Guiding Principles for Establishing a Radiation Protection Culture, 2014. http://www.irpa.net

[2] S. Economides, F. Hardeman, C. Nucceteli, S. Risica, C. Schieber, A. Schmitt-Hannig,
F. Vermeersch, ‘Development and Dissemination of ALARA Culture’, in Proceedings of the 13th IRPA International Congress, Glasgow, 2012.

WANO - World Association of Nuclear Operators - www.wano.info
ISOE - Information System on Occupational Exposure - www.isoe-network.net


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