Flamanville nuclear reactor under construction

EDF charged with replacing Flamanville 3 nuclear reactor cover by 2024

Image credit: Reuters/Benoit Tessier

The French Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) has ruled that EDF’s Flamanville 3 nuclear reactor is fit for service, although the company must replace its faulty reactor cover unless it can devise new tests to prove that it is fit for purpose.

The Flamanville 3 nuclear reactor, which is currently under construction in Northwest France, is expected to start up in 2018, although the project has suffered from delays, safety issues and overrun costs.

One of the major safety issues raised regarded the irregularity of the steel of the reactor cover and base. In 2014, carbon concentrations were discovered in the Areva-manufactured components and the ASN ordered EDF and Areva to carry out tests on the steel.

After reviewing the findings, the ASN have provisionally ruled that the reactor is fit for service and the reactor base can operate safely over its projected 60-year lifetime. However, unless EDF can device new tests to prove the reliability of the steel, it must replace the faulty reactor cover by 2024.

“The ASN considers that there are sufficient safety margins in order to start up the reactor,” stated Pierre-Franck Chevet, director of the ASN.

Laurent Thieffry, who is leading EDF’s Flamanville 3 project, said that the company would comply with the ruling and attempt to devise new tests within two years. EDF will substitute the flawed reactor cover with a replacement which will be forged by Japan Steel Works, rather than Areva. This will take up to nine months and cost approximately €100 million.

Greenpeace called on Nicolas Hulot, the French energy and environment minister, to halt the construction. “The ASN is no longer able to decide on safety in all independence and cannot resist industry pressure, simply because the survival of the entire French nuclear industry is at stake with the approval of this reactor vessel,” the pressure group argued.

According to M. Chevet, the problems with the consistency of the steel could impact other European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) projects, including two currently under construction in Taishan, China, with bases and covers also manufactured by Areva’s Creusot Forge.

An EPR under construction in Finland will be unaffected, as its components have been forged in Japan.

The proposed Hinkley Point C nuclear power station in Somerset will contain two Areva-designed EPR reactors generating 3.2GW. The plant will have an estimated lifetime of 60 years, and will be mostly paid for by EDF and China General Nuclear Power Group.

A final ruling is expected in October following a public consultation.

If the regulator had ruled that the flawed steel would prevent a start-up of the reactor, entirely repairing the vessel would cost billions of euros. The regulator’s green light is a precondition for European Commission approval of EDF’s planned majority acquisition of Areva.

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