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French regulator clears faulty EDF nuclear units to operate

French nuclear operator Electricité de France SA can continue operating six reactors with 19 steam generators that have faulty welds, chairman of nuclear safety authority ASN, Bernard Doroszczuk, told French newspaper Les Echos on Oct. 24.

ASN confirmed the decision in a statement issued later the same day, while EDF acknowledged the announcement on Oct. 25, reiterating that the reactors "do not need to be shut down in order for the checks required to deal with the discrepancies to be carried out."

Doroszczuk said more in-depth analysis would be undertaken during future planned outages of the units, and an investigation would be launched to better understand why the faulty welds had occurred during the manufacturing process. This investigation could last two years, he said.

Approval to continue operation was seen as "a small positive for EDF and is consistent with EDF's initial assessment of this issue," French investment bank BNP Paribas said.

On Sept. 9, EDF told ASN of initial investigations into faulty welds in Framatome steam generators installed across six 900-MW reactor units at Blayais, Bugey, Fessenheim, Dampierre-en-Burly and Paluel. EDF said it did not believe the faults affected the components' fitness for service, or required immediate action.

Similar faults were identified on four steam generators not yet in service at the Flamanville-3 European Pressurized Reactor, and on three steam generators due for installation at Gravelines.

ASN would allow replacement of the Gravelines steam generators, Doroszczuk said, but had yet to approve use of those lined up for Flamanville-3, where a pressurizer had also been identified with weld deviations.

Nuclear outlook

In its Oct. 25 statement, EDF said it had cut its 2019 French nuclear output forecast by 5 TWh to 390 TWh. A "particularly complex" schedule of 10-year reactor inspections had led to extensions to shutdowns in the second half of the year, it said.

"Combined with the fortuitous shutdown of Flamanville 1 to carry out maintenance work on the diesel generators and weather conditions resulting in greater modulations than planned for the reactors, this situation has led EDF to review its forecast annual output for 2019 to approximately 390 TWh, compared with an initial hypothesis of approximately 395 TWh," it added.

EDF's French nuclear output in 2018 was 393.2 TWh, up 3.7% year on year.

The utility's financial targets for 2019 and ambitions for 2020 remained unchanged, it said. The group aims for EBITDA this year of between €15.3 billion and €16 billion.

Henry Edwardes-Evans is a reporter with S&P Global Platts. S&P Global Market Intelligence and S&P Global Platts are owned by S&P Global Inc.