Nuclear: EDF reduces its production estimate for 2022 due to corrosion

Price pressures in sight. A corrosion problem on the safety system of French nuclear reactors has spread to at least one other reactor, a new setback that falls badly at a time when the electricity supply is tight and the sector scrutinized as never before. These problems prompted the French group EDF to reduce its nuclear electricity production forecast for 2022 “to 300 – 330 TWh, against 330 – 360 TWh”, due “to the extension of the shutdown period of five reactors of EDF’s French nuclear fleet”, announced the group in a press release Thursday evening.

Among them, a reactor at the Penly power plant (Seine-Maritime) is now also affected by this defect, which until now had only affected more powerful and recent reactors. “The defects that have been observed on the latest generation reactors have been observed on another reactor”, that of Penly 1, which is already shut down, Karine Herviou, deputy director general of the Institute for Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN). The problem had so far only been identified on 1.450 megawatt reactors. The fault detected at Penly 1, a 1.300 MW reactor, is the first to concern another family of reactors.

Same phenomenon as previously

EDF had announced in mid-December the precautionary shutdown of the two reactors at the Chooz power station (Ardennes) to verification of possible faults on its emergency cooling circuit, after the detection of faults in Civaux (Vienne), another plant of the same model.

The group has since announced that one of the Chooz reactors was actually affected by the same problem. The second is still under investigation.

The problem identified at Penly “would also be due to a stress corrosion phenomenon, i.e. the same phenomenon that was detected” on the 1.450 MW reactors, said Karine Herviou, referring to “a defect of the order of a millimeter”.

The shutdown of the four Civaux and Chooz reactors in the middle of December had deprived France of % of its nuclear capacity and is driving up already very high electricity prices on the market. shutdown of the Civaux 1, Civaux 2, Chooz 1, Chooz 2 and Penly 1 reactors”, warned the public energy group on Thursday evening.

Problems at come elsewhere?

The RTE network manager has recently increased its level of vigilance on the supply of electricity to France while the availability of the nuclear fleet, also turned upside down by the pandemic, is at its lowest. France, which derives the vast majority of its electricity from nuclear power, had on Thursday 10 reactors unavailable on 56 and was deprived of % of its capacity, at a time when consumption is high with the drop in temperatures .

The question now is whether other French reactors are affected by this corrosion problem. “We don’t know if there aren’t problems elsewhere. EDF is in the process of reviewing all the recordings” of checks carried out in the past on the fleet, indicated Karine Herviou.

“It is impossible to exclude that other reactors in the series 1.300 MW are affected”, judged Yves Marignac, nuclear expert of the NégaWatt association.

” This poses a difficult problem for the authorities, which is to know whether we apply the same logic (as for the 1.450 MW reactors) and we close the reactors or if we favor electrical safety,” he added. Because “closing more 1.300 MW reactors would inevitably lead to supply disruptions”.

The New problems revealed on Thursday come at a time when France is wondering about its energy future amid rising concerns about climate change. Nuclear power is one of the divisive themes of the presidential campaign, with candidates in favor of this energy (notably on the right, on the far right, but also in the PCF) and others hostile (LFI and EELV in particular).

President Emmanuel Macron, who has not yet declared himself a candidate for a second term, announced in November that France would launch a new program to build nuclear reactors. It is currently building only one new generation, the Flamanville EPR (Manche), which has experienced many delays. The last one has just been announced on Wednesday: the loading of the fuel has been postponed from the end 2022 to the second quarter 2023, for an increased bill of 300 million euros.