EDF Nuclear Future Uncertain as Ruling on Lifespan Is Years Away

Electricite de France SA’s nuclear reactors in the country face an uncertain future as the industry regulator said a decision on extending their life is years away.

“We are a long way from making a decision” on a possible extension beyond 40 years, Pierre-Franck Chevet, head of the Autorite de Surete Nucleaire, said at a parliamentary hearing in Paris yesterday. “We are at the very beginning of a process.”

EDF, Europe’s biggest power generator, has earmarked billions of euros to improve safety and keep its 58 French reactors running for as long as six decades. While some 30-year models have won approval to operate a further decade, President Francois Hollande has ordered the halt of EDF’s oldest plant at Fessenheim in a first step to lowering reliance on atomic power.

The ASN may provide a “technical indication” in 2015 of what Paris-based EDF would have to do to extend the life of its reactors, Chevet said. The safety requirements for so-called third-generation reactors, such as the Flamanville plant under development in Normandy, will frame these decisions.

The ASN yesterday published its annual report on France’s nuclear sites. The study examines technical safety and policy in the country, where EDF’s reactors provide about three-quarters of total power output.

Safety Requirements

While the report shows that the Fessenheim reactor and plants at Chinon, Cruas-Meysse and Paluel need to improve safety, “whatever the outcome, there will be nuclear in France for years to come,” Chevet said.

EDF is already bolstering safety after the ASN tightened regulations following the 2011 Fukushima meltdown in Japan. The utility has estimated it will have to spend 55 billion euros ($73 billion) through 2025 on safety and equipment upgrades, which may also allow it to operate the plants for as long as 60 years, Chief Executive Officer Henri Proglio has said.

The government is leading a debate on the nation’s energy mix, which will inform a decision on whether EDF can keep more reactors open in the coming decade. While nuclear power offers round-the-clock output, Hollande is seeking to diversify generation by adding renewable energies such as wind and solar.

The government must ensure sufficient alternative capacity is available should safety problems require the shutdown of as many as 10 reactors, Chevet said. “The French power system has to be able to deal with this.”

Yesterday’s report also showed that Areva SA must improve waste storage at its oldest installations at La Hague in northern France, while the Commissariat a l’Energie Atomique & aux Energies Alternatives must improve dismantling because it relies too heavily on sub-contractors.

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