Minister calls for EDF to revive French nuclear industry

29 October 2019

French utility EDF must present within one month an action plan to the French government setting out how it will resolve issues, such as skills shortages, that have caused delays and cost increases at new nuclear power plant projects. Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said these have damaged the reputation of the nuclear industry.

The Flamanville EPR pictured in front of units 1 and 2 at the plant (Image: EDF)

The minister yesterday released an audit of the construction of the Flamanville 3 EPR, conducted by former PSA Group chief Jean-Martin Folz.

Construction work began in December 2007 on the 1650 MWe unit at the Flamanville site in Normandy. The EPR reactor was originally expected to start commercial operation in 2013 and cost EUR3.3 billion (USD3.7 billion). However, the project has been beset by delays and cost increases. Earlier this month EDF said necessary repairs to the reactor's main secondary system penetration welds will further increase the cost of constructing the Flamanville EPR to EUR12.4 billion. The loading of fuel into the reactor has also been further delayed until the end of 2022.

Folz's report concludes: "The construction of the Flamanville EPR will have accumulated so many additional costs and delays that it can only be considered a failure for EDF; but the main reasons for this failure are clearly identifiable and some recommendations can be made."

In his report, Folz says the commissioning and operation of the EPR reactors in Taishan, China, have demonstrated "the relevance of the concept and design of the EPR". However, he adds that improvements in the constructability and reductions in the cost of EPR units should be made without losing the experience gained so far in order for series construction of reactors to resume.

The recent setbacks at Flamanville cannot be attributable to the current project management team, the report says. EDF should reorganise its team working on the project. It must establish a powerful project team, with its own resources and permanent staff, which uses the most modern project management techniques, and is under a high-level hierarchical supervision.

The state-owned company should also improve its coordination with suppliers and the nuclear safety authority. It should also work with the industry to improve training for workers, especially welders.

"Considerable efforts in initial training and skill maintenance will be required to rebuild a pool of qualified professionals in this very demanding discipline," the report says. EDF must also develop or renew a culture of quality.

"It's a failure for the entire French nuclear industry," Le Maire was quoted as saying by Bloomberg. "Once the action plan has been presented to the EDF board and agreed by the state, a review of its implementation will have to be made at the end of 2020."

He said such a move is required before the government will make a decision on constructing any further new reactors.

"It's true [that] France's nuclear industry is going through a difficult time," EDF CEO Jean-Bernard Levy was quoted as saying by Reuters. He added that EDF would "double down on its efforts".

In December, unit 1 of the Taishan plant in China's Guangdong province became the first EPR to enter commercial operation. Taishan 2 began commercial operation last month. Olkiluoto 3 in Finland, the first-of-a-kind EPR, has completed hot functional tests and is preparing to load fuel. Two EPR units are also under construction at the Hinkley Point C project in Somerset, UK.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News