Electricite de France SA must raise safety at nuclear plants built as long as 30 years ago closer to levels of new designs engineered to withstand plane crashes and core meltdowns, according to French regulators.
Autorite de Surete Nucleaire will gauge the safety of EDF’s 58 reactors against the latest technology when deciding whether to allow the utility to extend the life of its plants, Pierre-Franck Chevet, the head of the watchdog, said today in Paris.
Safety needs to move “toward that of third-generation reactors,” Chevet said. “The plants were built to go to 40 years” and while “it is technologically possible” to go beyond that, safety considerations have emerged, he said.
EDF owns more reactors than any other utility in the world, making France the country most reliant on atomic power. Chief Executive Officer Henri Proglio has said the company is seeking to extend the lives of its reactors for as long as six decades. Thirty-year-old plants already won approval to run for 40 years.
The company is building a so-called third-generation model known as an EPR in Normandy that was designed to withstand airplane crashes and better contain core meltdowns.
Chevet, who has the power to shut down EDF reactors, cited the safety of spent-fuel cooling pools and the strength of reactor bases and cores as areas of focus for the regulator.
EPR safety criteria will play a role in granting extensions “because the alternative is to build a new reactor,” he said.
The watchdog plans a preliminary opinion on life extensions in 2015 and a final one in 2018 or 2019, Chevet said. Each EDF plant will then still have to go through the in-depth safety investigation that French reactors are subject to every decade.
On top of the safety requirements, EDF is also navigating French President Francois Hollande’s pledge to trim nuclear output to half of total power production by about 2025, while boosting the country’s renewable-energy supplies. EDF’s nuclear reactors supply about 75 percent of French power production.
Hollande, elected in 2012, has ordered the permanent halt of two 900-megawatt nuclear units at EDF’s Fessenheim plant in eastern France by the end of 2016. That year, EDF also plans to start the new 1,650-megawatt EPR at Flamanville, which will be the single-biggest atomic generator in France.
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