In 1997 French utility EDF started to dismantle its first nuclear power plant, a 30-year-old heavy water reactor in Brennilis, north-western France. It was expected to cost 250m euros. The bill is now set to be at least half as much again, and the decommissioning is still not done. In fact, there has never been a full dismantling of a reactor in France, the only European country to get three-quarters of its electricity from nuclear power. EDF, the operator of all 58 of France’s reactors, is preparing to build a new £18bn plant at Hinkley Point in the UK that some at the Paris-based company have warned is too dangerous given its stretched balance sheet. EDF’s other big reactor project, at Flamanville in France, is already six years behind schedule and 7.2bn euro over budget. Hinkley and Flamanville have focused attention on another looming challenge for EDF: has the company set aside enough money to cover the huge cost of dismantling and cleaning up its existing nuclear power stations in France? Unlike the UK, where the state has assumed much of the financial risk of taking apart nuclear reactors, in France it all falls on EDF, which has established a 23bn euro special fund for this purpose. The 23bn – much of it invested in equities and bonds – has been set aside to cover what EDF estimates will be the 54bn euro cost of decommissioning the 58 reactors and safely storing their radioactive waste. This includes 23bn euros for dismantling the power stations, and 26bn euros for managing spent fuel. Yves Marignac, director of energy research group WISE-Paris, is one of several European academics who think that the true cost of decommissioning and waste disposal for EDF will be far more than the figure the company anticipates. To put things in context, Germany has set aside almost 38bn euros for the decommissioning of 17 nuclear reactors. France, with more than three times as many reactors, has 15bn euros less for the same process.
FT 19th April 2016 read more »