France may ban part time work on nuclear sites

BMJ 1997; 314 doi: (Published 01 February 1997) Cite this as: BMJ 1997;314:323
  1. Alexander Dorozynski
  1. Paris

    The French government may forbid the employment of casual workers in areas where they may be exposed to high amounts of ionising radiation.

    More then 3000 people would be affected by the ban. Most of them are casually employed for maintenance work when power generating reactors are stopped for reloading. Others have job assignments at the Cogema waste processing plants or in military installations. Many of them are allegedly hired–or refused work–on the basis of cumulated doses received during previous assignments. It is believed that some of them knowingly underestimate their exposure and that some do not wear dosimeters when they work in contaminated zones to remain eligible for work.

    The daily newspaper Le Monde has revealed that the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs has proposed to ban such employment, which applies mainly to jobs with the highest exposure to risk and which are not carried out by full time employees. The revelation follows lengthy coverage in the French press about the incidence of leukaemia around the La Hague nuclear power plant triggered by the research published in the BMJ (1997;314:101-6).

    During large scale maintenance operations several hundred casual employees hired by subcontractors may work in a single nuclear plant. According to the ministry, the ban would affect 3160 workers out of a total of more then 20 000 working on nuclear power plants operated by Electricité de France and in other nuclear installations.

    Exposure measured by film sensitive to radiation was found to be insufficient in evaluating cumulated doses received by workers employed at different times in different sites, and in 1992 Electricité de France introduced another type of measurement based on the “dosimetric cost” of various jobs. A system known as Dosimo was thus informally developed, outside of any judicial control, with records reflecting the “dosimetric past” of individual workers. The conditions under which dosimetric data may be made available to employers have not been defined by law. Currently only doctors have access to such records and can decide whether a workers remains qualified for temporary work in a contaminated zone.

    In France the annual permissible dose for employees in the nuclear industry is 50 mSv, whereas a European directive adopted in May 1996 recommends a maximum annual average of 20 mSv over five years without exceeding 50 mSv in any single year. Member countries will have to abide by this directive by May 2000.

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