Nuclear Safety: ASN-IRSN Merger Bill Passed in the Senate

The Senate has passed the bill to merge the French Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) and the French Institute for Radioprotection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN) as part of the nuclear safety governance reform desired by the government. However, Senators have imposed amendments to separate expertise from decision-making or ensure expert decisions’ transparency.

With a large majority, the Senate adopted the nuclear safety and radioprotection governance reform on Tuesday, 13 February 2024. The bill was passed with 228 votes in favour and 98 against. During a cabinet meeting, the government unveiled its bill on 20 December last year.

The goal is to create a new independent administrative authority, the Authority for Nuclear Safety and Radioprotection (ASNR), resulting from the merger between the ASN and the IRSN. This merger is planned for 1 January 2025. A schedule that is “ambitious, but realistic and necessary,” according to Christophe Béchu, Minister of Ecological Transition, who took charge of this text during cabinet reshuffling.

Senators’ Amendments

The bill’s explanatory statement specifies that this text aims to “meet expectations in terms of deadlines and efficiency of the processes of expertise, instruction, authorisation, and control”. The government guarantees the independence of the regulatory authority through the status of an independent administrative authority. The full objectives of the law can be found in this analysis by the French Society for Nuclear Energy (Sfen).

Before voting, the Senate proposed several amendments. In particular, while international standards do not recommend separating expertise and decision-making into two different bodies, Senators sought to reinforce the distinction between these two competencies. Senators also wanted to ensure the maintenance of the level of transparency to the general public regarding expertise reports, as well as to create a mechanism to prevent conflicts of interest.■

The text voted on must now go to the National Assembly for examination on 11 March. Following the latest cabinet reshuffle, Roland Lescure, now Minister of Energy, will defend the text.

By Sfen

Photo: Christophe Béchu, Minister for Energy Transition, during the Senate debates – @DanielPier/NurPhotoNurPhoto via AFP