Legal Decision in France Shifts Burden of Proof to Nuclear Plant Operator

A legal decision in France this week set a notable precedent in the history of what is called "health physics." In a case concerning a nuclear power plant worker who died of lung cancer, a French tribunal shifted the burden of proof onto the operator of the nuclear power plant. The tribunal judged that it was irrelevant that the employee smoked and was exposed to radiation below legal limits. It found that the utility could not prove that radiation was not a factor in the employee's death at age 53. The radiation exposure of the employee was far below what hundreds of thousands of people are presently exposed to in Fukushima Prefecture.

Translation of the article published in Le Monde, September 8, 2013:

Le Monde, with Agence France Presse, 2013/09/08 13:20, updated 13:34

For the first, time EDF has been found guilty of gross negligence in the case of an employee of a nuclear power plant (at Dampierre-en-Burly, Loiret) who died of lung cancer. The decision of the tribunal of the Orléans office Social Security Affairs was made on August 27 and revealed by Journal du Dimanche on September 8. The tribunal stated, “The occupational disease that afflicted Jean-François Cloix and led to his death is the result of gross negligence on the part of EDF.”
Mr. Cloix, who had worked in the power plant for thirty years as a boilermaker, died in 2009 at the age of 53. In his work for EDF he was exposed to low levels of ionizing radiation. The Orléans tribunal deemed that EDF could not prove that the employee’s cancer was not linked to the radiation he absorbed, regardless of the numerous scientific documents presented and the “undisputed” standards of safety practiced in nuclear power plants.


According to the judgment, the fact that the employee smoked, the most common cause of lung cancer, did not exculpate the company. In its report, the tribunal stated, “Even though smoking is one of the undisputed causes of this malady, this fact excuses in no way the extra risk imposed by exposure to ionizing radiation.”
The lawyer for the giant electrical utility, Philippe Toison, said, “EDF is going to appeal this decision.” The operator of 19 power plants and 58 reactors in France noted that the total exposure of the employee over the length of his career was about 3% of legal limits. This was a total of 54.4 millisieverts (mSv) over thirty years, while the maximum limit was 50 mSv per year (later lowered to 20 mSv per year during Mr. Cloix’s career). The lawyer indicated that he knew of no precedent of other judgments like this implicating radiation. 
The determination of gross negligence increases the compensation due to the widow and two children of Mr. Cloix, which will increase to a total of 95,000 euros according to the judgment.

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