By Jenny Hou, National Council of Asian-America Business Associations
Twelve years ago, I was working briefly at International Energy Agency in Paris. My husband and I took 10 days vacation in Normandy and Loire Valley, and during this trip. the word “Nuclear” never registered in our minds. The beautiful beach and small coastal cities/towns were serenely intertwined and were like living art. After visiting Utah Beach and WWII Museum, Mont-Saint-Michel appeared like “A wonderful pyramid” and “A dream palace” as described by Victor Hugo.
Twelve years later, I, as one of five AREVA community advisory council members, was invited to go back to the same region and visit AREVA nuclear recycling plant in La Hague. With strong curiosity, we first took the train ride from Paris to Barneville-Carteret, and had an interactive dinner with local community leaders who are actively involved in the independent community nuclear safety council. The excitement of returning for the second time had already overwhelmed me during the train ride, and I did not know what else I could expect from those local officials at the dinner, not to mention what I would see at the nuclear recycling plant the following day.
To much of my surprise, the French guests consisting of local mayors, town councilman and some other community representatives were very kind and shared information about their roles and responsibilities as the independent nuclear safety monitoring body. They used some cases to explain the policy and procedures of conducting certain review, analysis and research, or even audit. They also answered many of our questions including an answer to my question before I asked it. The conclusion I could draw from the entire conversation was “transparency” between the council and AREVA. It feels the plant has melded well to the local daily life and yet local community maintains its own independent rights to monitor what is going on with the complex recycling process without much of industrial giant interference.
The following day, the host from La Hague plant accompanied us to the inside of the plant. Twelve years ago, if someone asked me to stand directly on the top of nuclear waste composite, I would have thought them mentally ill. Twelve years later, I was literally standing on the top of used nuclear fuel without fear radiation. I could not even believe myself of such a transformation. I appreciate the education of nuclear 101 and 102 AREVA has provided to us over the past year, and the opportunities to experience it in person.
Without seeing how the nuclear recycling facilities are constructed, and how the nuclear composites are processed, stored, delivered in my own eyes, I would have not believed it is a safe place to work. The key factors are: 1) the well-developed safety policy and procedure, 2) it is well implemented and monitored in every step of the process, and 3) there is no short cut to emphasize the bottom line.
Coming out of the site, we were walking to the La Hague Guest House for lunch. Along the side walk, it comes the low altitude mountain (French call it “Mont”), the fresh water reservoir, the meadow with a cow and sheep randomly, and the Atlantic Ocean. I could not help myself to think of the word “Tranquility”…
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