Nuclear sector: Flamanville EPR is facing new problems
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"LES ÉCHOS", VERONIQUE LE BILLON, DEPUTY HEAD OF DIVISION – 07/04
|Areva has warned the ASN, the French nuclear watchdog, that there were a fault in the steel used in some areas of the lid and the bottom of the tank of the Flamanville EPR”. CharlyTRIBALLEAU /AFP|
Some trials show that the steel resilience was lower than forecast in the tank, the Authority for Nuclear Safety highlighted.
That’s a new blow in EDF and Areva’s present situation. Areva has warned the ASN, the French nuclear watchdog, that “there were a fault in the steel used in some areas of the lid and the bottom of the tank of the Flamanville EPR”, wrote the ASN in a press release on Tuesday. The EPR tank was installed in early 2014 in the third generation reactor vessel in construction since 2007. This tank will contain the nuclear fuel. It has been forged and manufactured in Areva’s plant located in le Creusot and Saint-Marcel (département of Saône-et-Loire). To be sure of its resilience, Areva has made destructive trials on another steel part, forged according the same manufacturing scheme. Yet, “the results of these trials showed the existence of an area, with an important carbon concentration, which induces a lower mechanical resilience ratio than forecast in late 2014”, wrote the ASN. “The first round of measures has confirmed the existence of the same fault in the lid and the bottom of the Flamanville EPR tank”.
New trials on the EPR tank
As such, Areva shall organise a new program of trials. In a common press release, EDF and Areva write: “all EDF and Areva staff in charge of trials will implement new complementary trials as soon as possible”. Since the public release of a €4,8 billion loss and since the governmental order compelling EDF to take a part in its supplier’s rescue, relations have changed between both groups: last autumn, EDF justified another postponement of the Flamanville EPR commissioning, from 2016 to 2017, because of “the difficulties confronting Areva”. But the government observes closely this new problem. As soon as reading the ASN report, Ségolène Royal, the Energy minister, “ordered to Areva to take any necessary measure immediately”. In a press release, she wrote that the results of the new set of trials “shall be expected for October”. If successful, Areva may thus prove that its materials comply to the required standards. If it were not the case, the most radical alternative solution would consist in rebuilding the tank, and that would take several years.
Whereas EDF has not still assessed the financial consequences of the last delays of Flamanville EPR construction, the fault detected Tuesday entails uncertainties in the construction of two other EPR in Taishan (China) whose tanks and lids are also coming from Areva’s plants. “We have just informed our Chinese partners of the NNSA. We don’t know yet how this information will be answered, but we intend to act coherently”, says Julien Collet, the deputy director of the ASN. Moreover, this fault runs against the interests of the French nuclear sector in Great Britain, where EDF delays the conclusion of its agreements.
The defect highlighted by the ASN shows also the difficulties faced by EDF and Areva to find a common position about the new regulation on ESPN, nuclear pressurized equipment, which is more stringent in the field of safety justifications, and which is the reason of significant delays to replace the steam generators in the Blayais nuclear power plant. Jean-Bernard Lévy (EDF), Philippe Varin and Philippe Knoche (Areva) were convened in a meeting in front of the board of the ASN commissioners to confront these dilemmas, last Thursday.
“Flamanville works carry on”, as both Areva and EDF write. The power operator has thus sent to the ASN its file about the EPR commissioning last month, and this file shall need an investigation lasting from “one to two years admittedly”, according to Julien Collet.