EDF’s Normandy EPR Vessel Fault Decision Seen in 2016, ASN Says

France’s nuclear safety authority won’t decide until early next year whether a key piece of equipment on a nuclear reactor being built by Electricite de France SA in Normandy is safe or needs to be changed, the regulator said.

“I don’t see us making a decision or taking a position before the beginning of 2016,” Pierre-Franck Chevet, president of Autorite de Surete Nucleaire, told a hearing at the French Senate Tuesday. The finding could range from rejecting the equipment as unsafe to allowing its use under certain conditions, he said.

In a blow to the showcase atomic generator being built at Flamanville, Normandy, the French regulator in April said Areva SA had found steel in the top and bottom of the reactor vessel is weaker than expected. The vessel is designed to hold nuclear fuel and prevent radioactivity from escaping.

The French regulator is reviewing an Areva plan for additional tests, Chevet told senators. The nuclear supplier designed the 1,650-megawatt reactor and manufactured the vessel.

“We will analyze this. It may take time,” Chevet said. “The anomaly is not just a detail, it’s serious on a key piece of equipment.”

Construction of the Flamanville EPR began in December 2007, with the date for completion repeatedly pushed back from an initial goal of 2012. The most recent completion date is 2017. The cost has more than doubled to 8.5 billion euros ($9.5 billion) from 3.3 billion euros originally.

Chevet also reiterated Tuesday that the extensions of the lifespan of EDF’s 58 nuclear reactors beyond 40 years of operation aren’t a given. The calendar for approval of work that may need to be done is “extraordinarily tight,” he said.

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