Restart all its nuclear reactors for this winter, a promise that will be difficult to keep

Following the revival of 32 shutdown reactors, EDF plans the scheduled shutdown of four more reactors by the end of the year. WILLIAM SOUVANT / AFP

Many uncertainties surround the energy company’s ability to maintain this schedule, linked mainly to corrosion problems found in a dozen reactors.

While the winter promises to be more stressful for France’s electricity supply, the state of the French nuclear fleet, essential for the hexagonal energy system, is being examined with concern. “32 reactors were shut down, some for stress corrosion, and others for routine maintenance», recalled Agnès Pannier-Runacher last Friday, at the end of the first Energy Defense Council. And the Minister for Energy Transition announced that EDF has “committed to restarting all reactors for this winter“.

A statement that raises many questions, some understand it as a promise that 100% of the French nuclear fleet will be available throughout the winter, from December 21 to March 19. The truth is not like this. Because, if EDF confirms the Figaro the schedule to restart 32 of its reactors (out of 56) for this winter – four of which will be restarted in recent days -, the energy company plans the same time as the scheduled shutdown of four reactors by the end of the year. And already planning another one, in Saint-Laurent-Nouan (Loir-et-Cher), from January 21.

On the other hand, the restart of the 32 shutdown reactors mentioned by Agnès Pannier-Runacher will last until February 18, for reactor 1 of the Golfech power plant (Tarn-et-Garonne). “The goal is to have 27 open by the end of December, and 32 closed now open in February“, introduced the Minister Delegate in charge of Industry Roland Lescure to Franceinfo Monday. “So the whole park is not available this winter“, we say at EDF, which is specified as “5 to 10 reactors will be under maintenance“during the winter. Or almost”like last winter“, we were assured on the side of the public company.

Sometimes complex repairs

Many uncertainties surround EDF’s ability to meet this schedule. In particular, the ability of the energy company to repair in time dozens of reactors suffering from corrosion problems is being questioned. “There are many projects to work on simultaneouslywe point to the side of the Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN), whose approval is required to restart a reactor. And it is also done in areas exposed to radioactivity, so there are certain constraints in terms of intervention.»«The intervention of operators in the irradiated zone will limit the individual intervention capacity of each agent“, many Yves Marignac, consultant on nuclear power and energy transition within the négaWatt association.

ASN also emphasized that, of the dozen reactors concerned, “many need more work“. “They show little difficulty and therefore uncertainty in terms of time“, we judge. More, according to Yves Marignac, with “a major constraint, which is the number of qualified operators available to carry out these repairs“.

Putting pressure on the nuclear safety authority?

Finally, EDF’s schedule seems to ignore the fact that some reactors “still subject to checks“, reported ASN. “Either to determine the extent of the corrosion phenomenon, or to determine whether it is subject to corrosion, which adds a level of uncertainty“, added the authority, presented by Agnès Pannier-Runacher on Tuesday in CNEWS as”one of the most sought-after agencies internationally“and”independent“.

A way for the minister to respond to the accusations, made by some observers, of the pressure that the government will put on ASN to allow the restart of the reactors that are now closed, in opposition to safety. “In reactors that are in scheduled outages, guaranteeing no schedule slippage means deciding in advance that any risk affecting safety should be neglected or postponed.», Estimated by Yves Marignac. The same problem arises in reactor shutdowns for corrosion, according to the expert. “The more pressure is put on to move quickly to implement these fixes, the more ASN’s margin of appreciation to allow restarts will be reduced.“, he advanced. Although, on the side of EDF, it was specified that “the government does not ask for anything“, and that'”it is based only on the calendar»that the company spoke to him.

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