Nuclear: despite the repeated problems, EDF pushes the fires into the atom

Nuclear: despite the repeated problems, EDF pushes the fires into the atom

EDF, 84% owned by the French state, is going through a dark year. In difficulty on all its construction sites for new nuclear reactors, whether at Flamanville in Normandy or at Hinkley Point in England, not to mention the worrying stoppage of one of the two Chinese EPRs at Taishan, the only ones to have been in use, EDF is confronted with serious corrosion problems on certain “classic” reactors in France. A phenomenon which led it to shut down 12 reactors when part of its fleet is already shut down due to the postponement of maintenance programs caused by the health crisis. Result: 27 reactors are now shut down, almost half of the French nuclear fleet. In addition to these industrial pitfalls, the State has forced it to increase the volume of nuclear electricity that it must sell to alternative suppliers, its competitors, within the framework of the Arenh mechanism. As a result, EDF anticipates, in total, 28.5 billion euros less on its Ebidta for the year 2022.

Despite this critical situation, the group expects milder weather and is optimistic about future nuclear projects. During a press briefing, Xavier Ursat, executive director in charge of engineering and new nuclear projects, outlined the bright spots to come. The first of these concerns the EPR Flamanville site. Launched in 2007, it was to come into service five years later, but the plant has still not produced any electrons.

Flamanville in a “pre-operation” situation

After multiple postponements causing a surge in the bill, fuel loading is now scheduled for the second half of 2023. “We have a good level of confidence in the performance of this schedule”assured Xavier Ursat, even if “it’s a schedule where we have little margin”, he admitted. The latter even estimated that the plant was in a state of “pre-operation. »

Before loading the fuel, EDF must finalize the last large welds of the main secondary circuit, which had been subject to defects. At the same time, the electrician must carry out a certain number of finishing touches before being able to carry out the overall tests, expected for the beginning of 2023. Fuel loading, the last step before commissioning, should take place in a year. It requires obtaining the green light from the Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN), the sector policeman.

In this time interval, EDF plans to correct a fault observed last year on the EPR 1 in Taishan, China, where corroded springs located at the bottom of the fuel rod assemblies damaged the sheath where the radioactive pellets are located. . To prevent this phenomenon from happening again on the Flamanville EPR, the company intends to carry out a heat treatment on the springs concerned. This solution is still the subject of an investigation with ASN.

If approved, it will require a replenishment of fuel assemblies. EDF did not wish to communicate the cost linked to this resupply, but assured that this maneuver could be carried out within the announced schedule. “The observation made in Taishan does not call into question the design of the EPR”, argued Xavier Ursat.

Simplified design to speed up

Beyond the Flamanville EPR, EDF intends to integrate all feedback to carry out the vast nuclear plan desired by the re-elected president. It involves building six new EPRs, the first of which could come out of the ground in 2035. An extension of the program, the feasibility of which has not yet been confirmed by the electrician, could lead to the construction of eight additional reactors. ‘by 2050.

A timing » very tight given the scale of this extraordinary industrial site. To meet the deadlines, EDF explains that it has already consulted the companies in the sector in order to get them on board as soon as possible. To speed up the pace, the energy company is also counting on the simplified design of these new generation EPRs, known as EPR 2. The idea is to keep the same major equipment of the EPR 1 and to simplify the small elements (pumps, valves, etc.) to limit the number of references. A way, according to EDF, to increase the size of the series, improve quality and avoid stock problems, while lowering costs.

Internally, EDF has reorganized by appointing Nicolas Matchou

“This industrial program is fundamental for our country. It is up to us to be ready to hire it under the best conditions, in particular by respecting schedules and costs,” indicated the executive director in charge of engineering.

First pair of new EPRs at Penly

The company also works with the sector, universities and Pôle Emploi to find the necessary skills. The construction of the six EPRs should, in fact, lead to the creation of 30,000 jobs. And, 10,000 permanent jobs are planned for the operation and maintenance phase. The Lyon branch of EDF should quickly double in size to have more than 2,000 people, mainly engineers.

The group also seized the National Commission for Public Debate on the construction of a first pair of reactors in Penly, Normandy “We imagine a public debate which could begin in the fall”, explained Xavier Ursat.

Nuclear: despite the difficulties of EDF, the Normans continue to bet on the EPR in Penly

However, the formal investment decision will ” some time “ because it requires the agreement of Brussels on the financing of this vast project, which necessarily requires a large participation of the State, and an ad hoc regulation on the marketing of new nuclear. “It’s in well over a year”said Xavier Ursat.

At the same time, EDF intends to win major international contracts. In India, the construction of six EPRs is at stake.

“The technical discussions are almost over”, said the executive director. A binding agreement between the two parties is hoped for by the end of the year or the beginning of 2023. EDF also responded to a call for tenders in the Czech Republic and submitted an offer to the Polish government for the construction of four EPRs. As for the United Kingdom, the electrician hopes to win a contract for the construction of two other EPRs at Sizewell, in south-east London, in addition to the two planned at Hinkley Point.

EDF does not lack ambitions. In a more distant horizon, the company intends to position itself on the vast market of small modular nuclear reactors, the famous SMR (for small modular reactor), intended to replace power stations running on coal, fuel oil or gas, in a decarbonization strategy. “In the countries that already have nuclear power in the world, there are already 3 million megawatts of power plants of this type that need to be replaced between 2030 and 2050”said Xavier Ursat.

As SMR projects multiply around the world and competition intensifies, EDF intends to make the most of the game thanks to the Nuward project, carried out as part of a consortium. The electrician has just obtained a “pre-licensing” from three European nuclear police, the French, Finnish and Czech regulators. This approach is, according to the company“the best way to try to chart a course to make Nuward the European SMR”. “This project is progressing very satisfactorily”, concluded Xavier Ursat. Objective: start construction sites from 2030. Will EDF manage to meet the deadlines?