EDF is facing questions over the health of its fleet of French nuclear plants after an investigation which has left the country with the lowest level of nuclear power for 10 years and the prospect of power cuts during a cold snap. Thirteen of EDF’s 58 atomic plants are offline, some due to planned maintenance, but most for safety checks ordered by the regulator over anomalies discovered in reactor parts. The outages have prompted warnings of potential planned power cuts and pushed up wholesale power prices, boosting coal and gas operators but squeezing small energy suppliers. Carbon emissions will possibly rise too as France, which last year forged a historic climate change deal in Paris, has to import more fossil fuel power. The problems stem from a fault identified last year by the Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) in the as-yet-unfinished reactor at north-western France’s Flamanville plant – the same design approved for Hinkley Point C in the UK. Pierre-Franck Chevet, president of the ASN, told Le Figaro the situation was “very worrying” and the discovery had led to “unprecedented” checks at all the country’s nuclear plants, which provide 75% of France’s electricity and normally help it export power to other countries. The issue is higher than expected carbon concentrations in steel reactor components, which could make them vulnerable to cracking. “The longer than expected outages at some of EDF’s nuclear plants place additional pressure on the company at a time that it is already under significant financial stress,” said Jim Watson, research director at the UK Energy Research Centre. “It has already taken a big risk in pursuing the Hinkley C project in the UK because other reactors using that design [in Finland and France] have suffered from delays and large cost overruns.” Peter Atherton, associate at analysts Cornwall Energy, said the failure of earlier inspections to pick up on problems was “a very serious thing, a bit of a stain on the whole French programme”.
Guardian 2nd Dec 2016 read more »