EXPRESS #2 - August 14, 2018
A French parliamentary commission, set up in January 2018 to look at the safety and security of nuclear installations, says in a report published on July 5 that nuclear plants remain vulnerable to accident and attack, reports Jim Green in the July issue of Nuclear Monitor, a publication of the nuclear-critical group WISE.
“French nuclear installations seem to suffer from an original flaw that will be difficult to remedy: they were not designed to withstand terrorist-like aggression,” Green quotes the commission as saying. “Its report identifies several risks including plane crashes, drone incursions, internal sabotage, external intrusions and cyber attacks”, writes Green.
According to Green, “EDF said in a statement that it is committed to ‘a process of continuous improvement’. However the evidence suggests that EDF has been slow to act. The parliamentary commission was established in part in response to a series of Greenpeace actions highlighting inadequate security at nuclear plants. According to the commission, Greenpeace has conducted 14 intrusion attempts in order to demonstrate the vulnerability of French nuclear sites over the past 30 years. And on July 3, Greenpeace once again demonstrated inadequate security by flying drones into the Bugey nuclear power plant and crashing one of them into the spent fuel building.”
“To reduce security risks, the commission recommends:
• Putting more police on the ground at nuclear sites.
• Reducing the predictability of transporting radioactive material by adjusting departure dates and times, and itineraries where possible.
• Creating a parliamentary delegation for civilian nuclear power whose members (four deputies and four senators) would have de jure access to classified information on security and safety matters.”
Green further writes that “The commission says the number of safety incidents in France ‘has risen steadily’, citing as examples last year’s temporary shutdown of the four reactors at a plant in Tricastin, and an explosion in the non-nuclear section of the Flamanville power plant. The commission also discusses the long-running quality-control scandal at AREVA’s Creusot Forge plant involving manufacturing flaws and falsification of documentation.”
“The commission highlights the risks associated with outsourcing in the nuclear industry, noting that 80% of tasks, both for operation and maintenance, are outsourced to contractors. This leads to a loss of competence within EDF.”
The commission also criticizes France’s Cigeo deep geologic repository project in Bure, northeastern France, which it says has “‘certain vulnerabilities’, including the risk of an underground fire that cannot be contained. It recommends continuing to study the option of long-term subsurface storage as a possible alternative to geological disposal.”
“The commission questions, on safety grounds, the heavy reliance on pool storage of spent nuclear fuel (including EDF’s proposed centralized pool project). It recommends that dry storage should to be considered whenever possible, and that as much spent fuel as possible should be transferred from pool storage to dry storage. In addition, the commission “raises a series of concerns about spent fuel reprocessing and says that relevant parties should consider whether or not to continue reprocessing”, writes Green.
Three weeks after the critical report came out, on 25 July, EDF announced that reactor start at the Flamanville EPR reactor has been delayed again, by a full year. Fuel loading is now expected to take place in the fourth quarter of 2019 instead of the fourth quarter of this year, as planned. The cost has also been increased again – from €10.5 billion to €10.9 billion.
The reason is a quality deviation in the welding of the main secondary system, which was detected on 21 March. As World Nuclear News reports, EDF decided to carry out further inspections. It had inspected 148 of the 150 welds in the secondary system by 25 July. Of those welds 33 turned out to have quality deficiencies.
Construction of the 1650 MW Flamanville EPR began in December 2007, with commercial operation originally expected in 2013, notes WNN. This last delay is another blow to the prestigious EPR design of EDF, which has also been experiencing huge delays and cost overruns in Finland. However, WNN reports that “on 29 June, Taishan 1 [in China] became the world’s first EPR to achieve grid connection and power generation. It is expected to enter commercial operation later this year. Taishan 2 – which is in the equipment installation phase – is scheduled to begin operating next year. Olkiluoto 3, the first-of-a-kind EPR [in Finland], has completed hot functional tests and is preparing to load fuel.”
In other words, there is still hope for EDF and its EPR. The success of the ongoing projects is also crucial for the UK, as two further EPRs are planned for the Hinkley Point C plant in Somerset, England.
Meanwhile, on 8 August, the French government announced that it has awarded 720 MW worth of new solar capacity across 103 separate projects in its fourth solar tender. The average price was €58.20/MWh, 5% less than the previous tender. France’s three-year solar tender series will award 3 GW of solar projects.