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Nuclear: faced with corrosion problems in power plants, EDF further reduces its ambitions


The electricity production of French nuclear power plants is again revised downwards. EDF announced, on the night of May 18 to 19, that it estimated it at 280 to 300 terawatt / hour in 2022, which represents about a third less than in 2019. This is historically low. It must be said that about half (28 out of 56) of the French reactors in the national park are shut down. This too is a record. Twelve of them are due to a technical problem with the piping discovered at the end of last year. The public electrician, however, ensures that it is coming out of the critical phase and that there will be no more unplanned shutdowns this year. Checks are continuing. According to EDF, the technical investigations carried out since the discovery of the first stress corrosion problem at the Civaux plant, near Poitiers, last December, make it possible to guarantee that there is no danger for the operation of the reactors. “Anyway, if that had not been the case in our logic, we shut down the reactors. We have already had to do this in the past in other situations, explains Régis Clément, the deputy director of the nuclear fleet. strategy very clearly is to get out of this phase which I’m going to call a bit of a crisis. We’re not quite out of it since we still have stages to go through. But we’re entering a phase where we’re programming industrially these controls and where we also use additional means that allow us to better understand, to better see what is happening in the pipes without having to cut these pipes to see what is inside. These corrosion problems are actually cracks that appear on the pipes connected to the primary circuit of the plants concerned. This is the most sensitive circuit, that of the reactor core. The studies carried out in the laboratory on portions of the cut pipes led the electrician to conclude that the cracks were not too deep and that they progressed slowly enough for the safety of the reactors to be ensured. Hence the decision not to make additional stops specifically for this cause. The new appraisals will now be carried out during the maintenance shutdowns already planned. With four exceptions: the Paluel and Penly reactors in Normandy, Cattenom in Moselle and Saint Alban in Isère will be shut down in 2023 for checks. Especially because their planned stops were too far away. The duration of the stops is evaluated between five and ten weeks. This is likely to weigh again on electricity production forecasts. Because the reactors already affected will not necessarily be back online. The nuclear safety authority estimates that the repairs would take several years. In the current state, 12 reactors out of 56 are shut down because of these corrosion problems. But of these twelve, only four are actually affected, the others are strongly suspected. EDF is however faced with other problems. The electrician is still running behind the delays in maintenance work caused by the Covid-19 crisis, between the security measures which have reduced the number of workers in the power stations and the sick in the teams. Moreover, many French power plants having been commissioned for a short period, less than 20 years, their outages for ten-year inspections are also concentrated. However, they are essential to allow each plant to operate for another ten years. According to the president of the Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN), the continuation of certain reactors beyond 50 years is not certain given the state of the fleet. A finding that contradicts the ambitions of the President of the Republic. Emmanuel Macron intends to keep as many power plants in the current fleet as possible in operation for as long as possible to meet the ever-increasing electricity needs.

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