The explosion that ripped through an EDF plant at Flamanville last week, injuring five workers, was in a “non-nuclear area”. Thank goodness for that. But the damage it has inflicted on the reputation of France’s nuclear industry is radioactive enough and it could not have come at a more sensitive time. Across the Channel, an army of engineers is starting work on EDF’s new £18 billion nuclear station at Hinkley Point. Questions persist over the enormous cost of the Hinkley scheme. EDF, the world’s biggest nuclear generator, has brushed aside criticism of the cost and subsidies lavished on the project by pointing to its engineering prowess and record of building and operating nuclear plants. That reputation appears to be unravelling amid a catalogue of problems at both existing French reactors and others that are under construction. France’s 58 reactors, which generate 75 per cent of its electricity, are increasingly clapped out. They are approaching the end of their lives – a situation that poses a colossal headache for EDF. The cracks in France’s nuclear edifice are appearing. The nation’s regulator is concerned about weak spots in the steel of several operational reactors, forcing a string of shutdowns for checks last year. Last week’s blast offered further evidence that all was not well. France’s national audit office, the Cour des Comptes, says EDF will need to fork out about 100 billion euros renovating its reactors over the next 13 years to meet safety standards and to extend their lives beyond their 40 years. On top of that, the company is facing a bill of at least 54 billion euros to decommission plants that the regulator says must be shut down. Even for a state-backed behemoth such as EDF, these are eye-watering sums. What’s more, they must be met while the group bankrolls new-build projects such as Hinkley and another reactor at Flamanville.
Times 13th Feb 2017 read more »