restart all its nuclear reactors for this winter, a promise difficult to keep

restart all its nuclear reactors for this winter, a promise difficult to keep
In parallel with the revival of the 32 shutdown reactors, EDF plans the scheduled shutdown of four other reactors by the end of the year. WILLIAM SOUVANT / AFP

Many uncertainties hover over the ability of the energy company to keep this schedule, linked in particular to the corrosion problems detected on a dozen reactors.

While winter promises to be particularly tense for France’s electricity supply, the state of the French nuclear fleet, essential for the hexagonal energy system, is being scrutinized with concern. “32 reactors are shut down, some for stress corrosion, and others for routine maintenance“, recalled Agnès Pannier-Runacher on Friday, at the end of the first Energy Defense Council. And the Minister for Energy Transition announced that EDF had “committed to restarting all reactors for this winter“.

A statement that raised a lot of questions, some understanding it as the promise that 100% of the French nuclear fleet would be available throughout the winter, from December 21 to March 19. The reality will not look like this. Because, if EDF confirms to Figaro the schedule for restarting its 32 reactors (out of 56) for this winter – four of which were to be restarted in recent days -, the energy company plans at the same time the scheduled shutdown of four reactors by the end of the year. And has already planned another, in Saint-Laurent-Nouan (Loir-et-Cher), from January 21.

On the other hand, the restart of the 32 shutdown reactors mentioned by Agnès Pannier-Runacher extends until February 18, for reactor 1 of the Golfech power plant (Tarn-et-Garonne). “The goal is 27 open by the end of December, and the 32 closed today open by February“, indicated the Minister Delegate in charge of Industry Roland Lescure on Franceinfo Monday. “The entire park will therefore not be available this winter“, we say at EDF, specifying that “5 to 10 reactors will be under maintenance” during winter. Or roughly “like last winter“, we are assured on the side of the public company.

Sometimes complex repairs

Many uncertainties hover over EDF’s ability to meet this schedule. In particular, the ability of the energy company to carry out repairs on time on the dozen reactors that have suffered from corrosion problems is questioned. “There are a large number of projects to be carried out simultaneouslywe point to the side of the Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN), whose authorization is necessary to restart a reactor. And they are also done in areas exposed to radioactivity, so there are specific constraints in terms of intervention.» «The intervention of operators in the irradiated zone will limit the individual intervention capacity of each agent“, abounds Yves Marignac, consultant on nuclear power and energy transition within the négaWatt association.

ASN also emphasizes that, of the dozen reactors concerned, “several require further work“. “They present a little more difficulty and therefore uncertainty in terms of timing“, we judge. All the more so, according to Yves Marignac, that there is “a major constraint, that of the number of qualified operators available to implement these repairs“.

Pressure put on the nuclear safety authority?

Finally, EDF’s schedule seems to omit the fact that some reactors “still subject to checks“, reports the ASN. “Either to determine the extent of the corrosion phenomenon, or to know if they are subject to corrosion, which adds a degree of uncertainty“, adds the authority, which Agnès Pannier-Runacher presented on Tuesday on CNEWS as”one of the most demanding agencies internationally” and “independent“.

A way for the minister to respond to the accusations, made by certain observers, of pressure that the government would put on the ASN to authorize the restarting of the reactors currently shut down, in defiance of safety. “On reactors in scheduled outage, guaranteeing that there will be no slippage in the schedule means deciding in advance that any hazard that could affect safety should be neglected or postponed», Estimates Yves Marignac. The same problem arises with reactor shutdowns for corrosion, according to the expert. “The more the pressure is exerted to move quickly in the implementation of these repairs, the more the ASN’s margin of appreciation to authorize the restart is reduced.“, he advances. Even if, on the side of EDF, it is specified that “the government did not ask for anything“, and that'”it is based only on the calendar» that the company communicated to him.

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