The Institute of Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety (France) is planning the set-up of an automatic nuclear aerosol monitoring network over the French territory. Each of the stations will be able to automatically sample the air aerosol content and provide activity concentration measurements on several radionuclides. This should help monitor the French and neighbouring countries nuclear power plants set. It would help evaluate the impact of a radiological incident occurring at one of these nuclear facilities. This paper is devoted to the spatial design of such a network. Here, any potential network is judged on its ability to extrapolate activity concentrations measured on the network stations over the whole domain. The performance of a network is quantitatively assessed through a cost function that measures the discrepancy between the extrapolation and the true concentration fields. These true fields are obtained through the computation of a database of dispersion accidents over one year of meteorology and originating from 20 French nuclear sites. A close to optimal network is then looked for using a simulated annealing optimisation. The results emphasise the importance of the cost function in the design of a network aimed at monitoring an accidental dispersion. Several choices of norm used in the cost function are studied and give way to different designs. The influence of the number of stations is discussed. A comparison with a purely geometric approach which does not involve simulations with a chemistry-transport model is performed. (C) 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.