French watchdog deepens probes into Areva nuclear parts. Concerns about quality and documentation could have knock-on effect on Hinkley Point. Investigators are widening probes into potentially faulty nuclear reactor components made at a factory operated by Areva, the French manufacturer, after the problems contributed to multiple shutdowns of power plants this year. Julien Collet, deputy director of the ASN, France’s nuclear regulator, said he wanted to “go much further” with investigations into Areva’s components, including one probe into the falsification of documents that certified the quality of certain parts. Separately, the ASN is expected to issue a report next year about issues with components made by Areva for a new nuclear power plant at Flamanville in France. The report’s findings could have a big impact on the proposed Hinkley Point C nuclear plant in the UK, because it is due to use the same technology as Flamanville. The ASN is leading investigations into two scandals relating to Areva’s supply of components for France’s existing nuclear power stations. First, French investigators said in June that some steel components made at Areva’s Le Creusot factory – notably parts used in steam generators – had excessive carbon levels, which could make them vulnerable to cracking. Second, Areva announced in May that it had found evidence suggesting employees had doctored quality-assurance documents relating to many different nuclear reactor components made at Le Creusot for up to 40 years. Both affairs have contributed to French nuclear power plants run by EDF, the utility, being shut down. David Emond, head of Areva’s component manufacturing business, said employees at Le Creusot appeared to have altered documents relating to certain components in a way that was “unacceptable practice” from as early as 1972. He said employees would sometimes round numbers up or down – for example, about chemical levels – so that they fell within technical safety limits. Mr Emond said that the inspection of 6,000 documents, or about 2.4m pages going back to 1965, would take until the end of 2017. Currently no doctored documents had been found after 2013, but “that does not mean we will not find some next year”, he added. Mr Emond stressed that while 70 components with falsified documents had found their way into French nuclear reactors – and 120 into overseas power plants – no safety problems has so far been discovered. Beyond Areva’s potentially faulty components in France’s existing nuclear power stations, there is another – potentially even larger – issue looming. In 2014, the reactor vessel at the planned new nuclear power plant at Flamanville – which was made at Areva’s factory in Chalon/Saint-Marcel – was found to have potentially critical structural weaknesses as a result of excessive carbon levels. It is not yet known how serious these weaknesses are. The results of an investigation by EDF, which is leading the construction of Flamanville, will be delivered to the ASN in the coming weeks. The regulator will then analyse the findings and issue a report in the first half of 2017. Any significant problems with the reactor vessel could be catastrophic for EDF, however, as redoing this important piece of the plant would mean restarting much of the construction work, which is already billions of euros over budget and years late. Any further delays at Flamanville could pose significant problems for Hinkley. This is partly because the financial support package the UK government has offered for Hinkley is premised on Flamanville being operational by 2020. If Flamanville’s reactor vessel is found to be flawed, it could push back the completion date – currently scheduled for the end of 2018 – beyond 2020.
FT 4th Jan 2017 read more »