EDF Seeks Out Cost Savings for Nuclear-Waste Repository

Electricite de France SA, operator of the country’s 58 nuclear reactors, is studying ways to lower the price of a planned repository for highly radioactive waste.

“EDF will be vigilant that this project develops with safety, industrial efficiency and controlled costs,” Sylvain Granger, director of nuclear fuel at Paris-based EDF, told a parliamentary hearing today. The utility is seeking to save money without compromising safety, he said.

France has struggled to execute plans to bury nuclear waste at a site near the northeastern town of Bure, with public debates called off amid protests by opponents. EDF is also under pressure to keep project costs in check as it invests in reactor upgrades while seeking to lower its 33.7 billion euros ($45.8 billion) of debt.

While estimates for the Bure repository have reached as high as 35 billion euros, it’s often possible to lower costs by as much as 70 percent from initial projections, Granger said.

The government, EDF and Andra, the national nuclear waste management agency, are working to produce a new cost estimate by the end of 2013, according to Charles-Antoine Louet, deputy director of the government’s energy and climate directorate. The energy minister will decide on the figure, he said.

France gets three-quarters of its power from atomic plants, a bigger proportion than any other nation. EDF faces billions of euros of costs to improve reactor safety after the authorities tightened rules following the 2011 meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima plant. President Francois Hollande has vowed to curb dependence on nuclear generation and shut EDF’s oldest reactor in 2016.

Environmental Concern

Environmental groups including Greenpeace have criticized a lack of certainty around what exactly will be stored in the Bure repository and whether spent fuel will go in if France phases out its reactors. Industry watchdog the Autorite de Surete Nucleaire has said it may not be ready to give its view for three or four more years.

“There are a certain number of open questions” about safety, said Pierre-Franck Chevet, head of the ASN. “The project hasn’t been finalized.”

Andra is seeking to start construction in 2019 and begin operations in 2025. The public consultation is due to result in a non-binding report on the project, which also needs approval from the ASN as well as a new law making the waste disposal reversible for a limited period.

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