Electricite de France SA, the biggest operator of atomic plants, was given approval by the country’s nuclear watchdog to run a 30-year-old reactor for another decade, the first owned by the utility to get such an extension.
The Autorite de Surete Nucleaire, or ASN, said the 900- megawatt Unit 1 at the Tricastin plant in southern France underwent inspections in 2009 that found it “suitable” to operate for 10 more years, according to a statement from the overseer of safety at EDF’s nuclear installations.
“EDF had to demonstrate that the reactor could operate safely for a minimum of 10 years,” said the ASN, which is based in Paris.
The decision won’t extend to all 34 of the utility’s 900- megawatt reactors, which will have to undergo the same inspections, although the watchdog reiterated it hasn’t found generic reasons preventing them from operating safely for 40 years.
The ruling is the first step in the utility’s plan to “significantly extend” beyond 40 years the operating life of France’s 58 existing commercial reactors that generate more than three-quarters of the country’s power. They have an average age of about 24 years. Prolonging reactor lifetimes is cheaper than developing new ones such as the EPR model in Flamanville, Normandy at a cost of about 5 billion euros ($6.67 billion).
As much as 80 percent of the Tricastin reactor’s output is used to power the nearby Eurodif nuclear fuel enrichment plant, according to the ASN. The unit, which was first connected to the grid in May, 1980, is one of four similar reactors on the site.
The French watchdog has also carried out a 10-year visit of Unit 1 at Fessenheim for that reactor to operate for 40 years. Formal authorization hasn’t been given yet.
In 2011, the ASN plans to carry out inspections for extension of operations until 40 years on two reactors at Bugey as well as four units at Dampierre, Fessenheim, Gravelines and Tricastin, according to the organization.
Eleven nuclear reactors will reach a 40-year operating life between 2015 and 2020, according to EDF’s latest annual report. EDF and the safety body are in talks on measures needed for reactors to function beyond four decades, the ASN has said. Chief Executive Officer Henri Proglio has estimated these could cost about 600 million euros a reactor.
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