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French Nuclear Industry in Chaos

plants-downNuClear News No 91, Jan 2017  On 14th December some thirty Greenpeace activists blocked the EDF headquarters in Paris to denounce the financial scandal and technical bankruptcy of the Company. They hung a banner on the front of the HQ building which declared that EDF has a debt of 74 billion euros, but because of nuclear power, this figure will rise even higher. (1)

As we reported last month Greenpeace commissioned an audit by AlphaValue, the equity research company. The report indicated that EDF grossly underestimates the cost of nuclear electricity. If it disclosed the true cost of running its fleet of reactors in France while financing two new ones in the UK, it would be declared bankrupt. (2) (3)

France is set to have its usual nuclear power capacity almost completely restored by midJanuary, after a number of plants come back online following inspections. Only 4 out of 58 nuclear power plants will be offline by the middle of January, so worries about shortages have eased. EDF has confirmed that seven nuclear reactors shut down for safety checks would be up and running again by the end of December and there should be no problem with power supplies this winter.

Grid operator RTE said that three of the seven reactors offline – Gravelines 2, Dampierre 3 and Tricastin 3 – would resume production from December 20th and that four more would restart before December 31st. The seven reactors are among 12 that have been slated for inspections under orders from the nuclear regulator ASN following the discovery of high carbon concentrations, which could weaken their steel. (4)

EDF has asked ASN if it can postpone the outage of the 1.5-GW Civaux-1 and the 900-MW Tricastin-2 reactors to March and February respectively. The Civaux-1 and Tricastin-2 reactors are currently both due to go offline December 23 and return on January 15. (5)

While this particular crisis may appear to have an end in sight, the French industry’s problems are now moving overseas. Manufacturing problems and forged paperwork as identified at Le Creusot are rare in the nuclear industry, where strict adherence to production and operating rules are supposed to be a crucial buffer against nuclear accidents. Independent nuclear energy consultant Mycle Schneider says “Having worked for over 30 years in France, I did not think this was possible for this country, [but it is] likely we have seen only the tip of the iceberg.”

Inspectors from the U.S. China and four other countries are investigating the decades-long cover up of the manufacturing problems at Le Creusot to see whether flaws represent a safety threat to their reactors. After investigators discovered files suggesting Le Creusot employees had concealed for decades manufacturing problems involving hundreds of components sold to customers around the world, the French regulator, ASN, ordered Areva to check 6,000 manufacturing files by hand, covering every nuclear part made at Le Creusot since the 1960s. Finnish inspectors visiting Le Creusot said they learned of potential flaws in a component slated for the reactor at Olkiluoto. In the U.S., the NRC has identified at least nine nuclear plants that use large components from Le Creusot.

“I’m concerned that there keep being more and more problems unveiled,” said Kerri Kavanagh, who leads the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s unit inspecting Le Creusot. Regulators are considering returning to Le Creusot or inspecting Areva’s Lynchburg, Va., offices to deepen their probe of the plant, a U.S. official said.

December 17, 2016 - Posted by | business and costs, France

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