Is returning to service all of France’s nuclear reactors this winter a realistic goal?

Against the energy crisis, we must bring back the nuclear soldier. Friday, September 2, at the end of the energy defense council, chaired by Emmanuel Macron, Agnès Pannier-Runacher, the Minister for Energy Transition says the damage: “32 reactors shut down today” out of a total of 56, ie more than half of the French nuclear fleet. Faced with this historical record of inaccessibility, the minister ordered the “general mobilization” and report “that EDF has to restart all reactors for this winter”. But can this goal be achieved?

“We need to know what the minister means when he announces that EDF will restart all nuclear reactors.warns Nicolas Goldberg, energy expert at Columbus Consulting. When we say that all the reactors [en arrêt cet été] restart for this winter, it does not mean that they will all work at the same time.” “EDF’s commitment is to restart the reactors before the end of the winter season“, with a schedule “which will run until February”confirmed Yves Marignac, energy specialist for the Negawatt association.

The schedule for restarting the EDF nuclear sites currently closed, consulted by franceinfo, provides that of the 33 reactors that were not in use on September 7, nine will be restarted on October 1, the date which corresponds to the start of “hard winter”, a period in which the consumption of electricity for heating increases, explains Nicolas Goldberg. The availability of the other twenty-four reactors was extended until February 18.

Contacted by franceinfo, the cabinet of Agnès Pannier-Runacher confirmed that the minister referred his words to the timetable provided by EDF, which “determines that the reactors currently shut down will be brought back into operation by the end of winter”.

But though spread till the end of the winter season, “The startup goal seems unrealistic in its current state”, believes Yves Marignac. The dates for returning the reactors to service announced by EDF are only indicative and subject to “real danger”, warns the specialist. “In the case of a maintenance stop, the possible appearance of anomalies during planned inspections may lead to a delay in reminders in relation to the planned schedule”lined up the nuclear expert. “For ten years, we have observed an increase in these delays linked to the aging of power plants, his notewhich makes it difficult to carry out operations within the desired timeframe.”

However, according to Julien Collet, Deputy Director General of the Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN), 2022 is a “extraordinary year” in terms of maintenance works. Among the thirty or so reactors currently shut down, “a dozen reactors need to be repaired after a corrosion problem“. EDF sees at the end of 2021, the “stress corrosion” especially affect the profit of “safe injection circuit“, a protective device loaded with “emergency cooling of a reactor“If there is a breach in its cooling circuit, explained Yves Marignac. “This is an important system to prevent an accident from becoming a Fukushima-type disaster”warns the Negawatt expert.

Problem: to repair this sensitive damage, EDF has no weapons. The number of electricians is limited “qualified operators” to realize “extremely dangerous welds” necessary to repair the corrosion of pipes, details Yves Marignac. But it needs technicians “intervention in an irradiated area within the reactor enclosure”, which prevents them from multiplying the construction sites. Due to the constraints of “Radiation protection”, explains the specialist, an operator cannot be exposed to a level of radiation that exceeds the maximum dose that he is no longer allowed to work. The availability of teams, subject to health protection measures, is one of the “primary limits” which weighs on the repair schedule, Julien Collet of ASN also confirmed.

“We have a lot of projects to manage at the same time and so in a way, we are understaffed.recognized at the end of August before Medef the boss of EDF, Jean-Bernard Levy, continued: We lack weapons because we don’t have enough trained teams.” The CEO held the state responsible, saying: “We were told: ‘Prepare to close the next twelve’. We, with the sector, we did not hire people to build twelve plants, we hired to close twelve.” An outing that earned him a harsh response from Emmanuel Macron, who accused him“irresponsible”.

But even if all the reactors that are currently shut down manage to be restarted, this “no way” that 100% of the nuclear fleet is at the same time to work to, slice Yves Marignac. Because, “for refueling or annual or ten-year inspection”Several reactors are regularly maintained, the energy analyst explained.

Requested by franceinfo, EDF stated however “Make every effort to optimize the availability of the nuclear fleet, in absolute safety, for the passing of the winter”. The electrician announces specific steps: “Fuel savings have been made in the reactors, to optimize their availability this winter. The schedule of maintenance operations has been changed for the fifteen scheduled reactor shutdowns, to keep them in production throughout the winter. “

Based on the lists of reactor losses published by EDF and RTE, franceinfo has determined the forecast production capacity of the French nuclear fleet for this winter. According to RTE and our calculations, from 54% in October, this capacity should exceed 80% in mid-December. It will be close to 90% in January 2023, before starting to decrease from February, when it is planned that there will be around ten reactors to close. However, these figures do not take into account any unplanned slowdowns, which can occur after incidents for example and cause production to be revised downwards.

However, these predictions seem too optimistic for all the energy specialists interviewed by franceinfo. “EDF announced that its production will increase to 56 gigawatts, but analysts count on 50 gigawatts”, angry Nicolas Goldberg. The capacity of the French nuclear fleet amounts to 61.4 gigawatts, according to Connaissance des Energies. For Emeric de Vigan, vice-president of Kpler, a company specializing in the analysis of energy market data, the estimates given by EDF are generally exaggerated by “5 to 10 gigawatts”. on “worst case scenario”simulated by the German Economy Ministry as part of an assessment of the vulnerability of energy supplies across the Rhine, French nuclear power can only produce. “40 gigawatts” of electricity, which can be equal to “15 to 20 reactors are inoperable”revealed by Yves Marignac.

In the current energy crisis, “The key factor is the arrival of the cold”, but supports Nicolas Goldberg. “If EDF can still produce 56 gigawatts in February, that would be great, because it is the month with the lowest temperature. But when a cold snap comes in November, we’re cooked“, warns the specialist.

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