Third quarter of 2001

EDF and a plant manager in the dock for failing to meet safety requirements

One-month prison sentence and a FrF500,000 fine.

WISE-Paris, 27 June 2001

[Posted 16/07/2001]

For the first time in France a nuclear power plant manager, Joël Bultel, and the plant operator, Electricité de France (EDF), were sentenced respectively, on 26 June 2001, to a suspended sentence of one month in prison and a fine of FrF500,000 for "unintentionally causing injury" and "infringement of labor laws". In a ruling that forms a precedent in French jurisprudence, the Valence summary jurisdiction court (Tribunal Correctionnel) declared Mr Bultel and EDF "wholly responsible for the prejudice suffered by the plaintiffs", on the one hand, Mr. Frédéric Moreau, a safety and radiological-protection technician, who was exposed to radiation while working in a "red" area on reactor N° 1 at the Tricastin power plant, and on the other, the plant branch of the CGT trade union.

The incident occurred on 11 March 1999, when Mr. Moreau, member of the safety, radiological-protection and health team of the Tricastin power plant, without authorization, entered a red area (1) below the vessel of reactor N° 1, shut down for maintenance at the time. (2) Mr. Moreau, who went into the reactor pit to retrieve maintenance tools, came close to thimbles —highly radioactive instruments put in place to monitor sealing of the reactor vessel during unloading of the fuel— for more than three minutes. After leaving the vessel, he realized that he had received a high dose of radiation. Monitoring instruments indicated afterwards that he received a dose of around 340 millisieverts (mSv) per hour, while the regulatory limit was 50 mSv per year at the time.

The Safety Authority classified this incident at level 2 on the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES), graduated from 0 to 7. This classification was justified by the fact that "regulatory limits on exposure to ionizing radiation were exceeded". (3)

The consequences for Mr. Moreau's health were almost immediate. A few days after exposure, the number of platelets in his blood (necessary for coagulation) began to drop. "During the months following the incident", he suffered from "severe asthenia (physical and mental exhaustion) accompanied by dyspnea (breathing difficulties) relating directly to the exposure to radiation". (4)

Mr. Moreau and the CGT lodged a complaint against EDF and the manager of the Tricastin power plant for having endangered his person, infringement of labor laws and unintentional injury causing an inability to work for more than three months.

The court's decision, in favor of the plaintiffs, noted a number of shortcomings on the part of the Tricastin power plant.

Underlying the fact that work was not organized in a manner that would "ensure accident prevention", and drawing attention to "failures" in application of safety measures and to "various breaches" of labor laws and regulations, the court highlighted the managerial deficiencies that led to the accident.

The hearing revealed that "red" areas were freely accessible to "managerial staff without any authorization or special formalities". Police investigations showed that radiological-protection and health technicians could make "dose measurements in the reactor pit without authorization". Other technicians admitted that they had carried out operations outside of their regular duties "to help out", and that, "when they intervened alone […] in red areas, they did not request any authorization for access, and that radiological-protection and health management staff had free access to the special "passes" giving access to red areas". Mr. Moreau's intervention in the red area was thus not within the direct line of duty, and no one was aware of it.

For the court in Valence, "the prejudice suffered by Mr. Moreau resulted from his irradiation, which was only made possible by these breaches", of which, by far, the most serious is the fact that "access to all off-limits zones was not made impossible," in spite of the fact that the regional directorate for industry, research and environment (DRIRE —Direction régionale de l'industrie, de la recherche et de l'environnement) had already noted these anomalies on 27 December 1997. (4)


  1. Red zone": zone in which the dose equivalent of radiation is likely to be more than 100 mSv/h. "Access is exceptional, protected by special authorization strictly limiting the time spent in the zone", from glossary on EDF website:
  2. Decision in criminal proceedings 26 June 2001, by Valence district court (Tribunal de Grande Instance de Valence)
  3. Contrôle, review published by the Safety authority, ASN, June 1999
  4. Decision in criminal proceedings 26 June 2001, by Valence district court (Tribunal de Grande Instance de Valence)

Back to contents