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Of Interest

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The safety attitude

Safety in a nuclear installation is about regulations as much as it is about attitude. As the need to develop a strong safety culture within the whole scope of the project is being reaffirmed, Joëlle Elbez-Uzan, head of the ITER Environmental Protection & Nuclear Safety Division, explains why safety should be "embedded in our day-to-day attitudes and actions."

''The strong workshop attendance, says Joëlle, is proof that there's now a widespread understanding of what is at stake in fostering a strong safety culture within ITER.'' (Click to view larger version...)
''The strong workshop attendance, says Joëlle, is proof that there's now a widespread understanding of what is at stake in fostering a strong safety culture within ITER.''
How would you define "safety culture"?

Safety culture is about ownership, on both a collective and individual basis, of the objectives defined by safety regulations. It consists in developing a questioning, constructive and I would say "pro-active" attitude towards any issue that is safety-related.

Once this approach is adopted, safety ceases to be perceived as a constraint and it becomes embedded in our day-to-day attitudes and actions.

Beginning in 2013, you have organized safety workshops for ITER staff, Domestic Agency personnel and contractors. Is it because the ITER Project lacks a safety culture?

ITER is the first fusion project that falls under nuclear safety regulations. If one excepts JET and TFTR, which briefly and successfully experimented with a deuterium-tritium mix in the 1990s, no fusion installation has ever had to deal with a significant inventory of nuclear fuel or with the activation that neutrons generate in plasma-facing components.

For scientists and engineers who come from research labs and tokamaks, this is a new situation—one we need to explain in terms of both regulations and attitude.

It is part of our job in the Nuclear Safety Division to provide not only the basic safety knowledge but also the philosophy on how safety should be approached.

The key word here is pragmatism: we need to proceed in a very practical manner, with concrete examples drawn from experience. We need to provide the 'keys' that will help unlock situations and solve problems, and this is precisely what the workshops are about.

The strong workshop attendance, always on a voluntary basis, is proof that there's now a widespread understanding of what is at stake in fostering a strong safety culture within ITER—and what is at stake is no less than the project's success.

Joëlle Elbez-Uzan, head of the ITER Environmental Protection & Nuclear Safety Division, at the recent MIIFED in Monaco. ''The key word [in safety culture] is pragmatism.'' (Click to view larger version...)
Joëlle Elbez-Uzan, head of the ITER Environmental Protection & Nuclear Safety Division, at the recent MIIFED in Monaco. ''The key word [in safety culture] is pragmatism.''
So I wouldn't say ITER lacks a safety culture. But as we are now fully into our daily responsibilities as the nuclear facility owner, it is essential that the "safety attitude" be embedded into each and every action we take.

And I would add that we have the privilege of growing the first-of-a-kind "fusion safety culture" from within. It is a remarkable opportunity.

ITER observes French nuclear safety regulations which are among the most stringent in the world. France's approach is also different from that of other countries...

Yes, the French approach is quite unique—it is not prescriptive. The French regulations define objectives and let the nuclear operator propose the means to meet these objectives. Solutions have to be proportional to what is a stake in terms of safety. It's a creative, adaptive and rather elegant process...


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