May 24, 2022

“The continued operation of EDF’s nuclear reactors should not be the adjustment variable for French energy policy”

First, the president of the Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN), Bernard Doroszczuk, wishes to emphasize a reassuring point. Despite the complications due to the health crisis, “the level of nuclear safety and radiation protection was completely satisfactory in 2021, he says in the preamble to his interview with World. In particular the conduct of the fourth ten-yearly inspections of the oldest reactors”. The French nuclear “gendarme” nevertheless warns against “an unprecedented double fragility” : both for the reactors, but also for the facilities that manufacture, reprocess or recover the fuel.

For 2022, EDF expects to produce nuclear electricity at a historically low level for at least thirty years. Why ?

A certain number of elements were quite predictable: the Flamanville EPR reactor [Manche] is not in use; the two Fessenheim reactors [Haut-Rhin] are closed [depuis 2020] ; and the 2021-2022 winter, even more than the previous one, is marked by major refit work and the ten-yearly outages which involve longer shutdowns of certain reactors. The health crisis, and in particular the first confinement, also had cascading effects on the shutdown schedule. It reduced availability margins in winter.

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To these identified difficulties has been added, since December 2021, the unavailability of four reactors linked to the discovery of a completely unexpected corrosion hazard on a circuit important for safety, the safety injection circuit. This anomaly led EDF, quite responsibly, to shut down four reactors [ainsi qu’un autre au moins, à Penly (Seine-Maritime), en janvier].

This accumulation of events leads to the situation we feared: a strain on the electrical system that could put safety decisions in competition with electrical safety decisions. ASN has repeatedly expressed the need to maintain margins in the dimensioning of the electrical system and installations, in order to be able to deal with contingencies. However, today, there is no margin!

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In this context, do you think it is possible to shut down twelve additional reactors by 2035, as provided for in the energy roadmap?

Given the foreseeable development of electrical uses in the coming
years, the current tense situation should lead the government to reconsider this choice, unless there is a safety imperative. This choice should be duly weighed against realistic forecasts for the commissioning, by 2035, of new means of production, whatever they may be, in order to be able to maintain margins for safety in the electrical system.

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