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French nuclear output rebounds in Jan, but remains below average

French power output from nuclear plants rebounded in January from recordlows last quarter, but was only marginally above levels seen in January 2017and still well below average levels in previous years, an analysis of monthlyproduction data from grid operator RTE showed.

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Nuclear output in January was 40.6 TWh, up only 0.5% from a year ago, but9% higher month on month, the provisional data aggregated by PlattsPowerVision showed.

January's nuclear output averaged 54.6 GW compared to 50.1 GW in Decemberfollowing a gradual ramp-up from a record-low during winter season of 37.5 GWin October, the data showed.

The reason for the improved output is better reactor availability afterEDF in December finally managed to return most reactors that were offline dueto unplanned outages during the fourth quarter with the exception ofBelleville-2 which had been delayed to end-February, it said.

Actual nuclear availability in January was even higher with the unusuallywindy, mild and wet weather this January forcing operator EDF at times toramp down its reactor output during off-peak hours.

LE CREUSOT REVIEW ONGOING

The temporary closure of the Tricastin NPP as well as delays inconnection with the regulator's Le Creusot review saw French nuclear outputfall to a record low in Q4 with an estimated 14 TWh loss of reactor output, S&P Global Platts calculations showed.

The cumulative delays from the first 12 reactors in the Le Creusot review-- ignoring other operational maintenance issues -- amounted to over 300 days,the calculations showed.

EDF confirmed Wednesday that it had submitted the next seven files in theLe Creusot review to the nuclear safety regulator ASN concerning the Cruas 2,Fessenheim 2, Tricastin 4, Paluel 2, Paluel 1, Cattenom 1 and Blayais 2reactors.

Any reactor restart is dependent on the green light by the ASN, but withno issues uncovered so far in the first 12 reactor files and the ASN planningto conclude the full review by end-2018, it said.

EDF operates France's 58 nuclear reactors and has struggled with extendedoutages since summer 2016 partly due to increased nuclear safety demands. For 2018, EDF currently has set a 395 TWh nuclear production target,which would be up sharply from record-lows in 2016 and 2017, but still onlythe fourth time below 400 TWh so far this century under the current fleet. On January 26, EDF has also scheduled additional fuel-saving outages atfour reactors (Flamanville 2, Nogent 1, Golfech 1 and Tricastin 2) for acombined 12 weeks this summer, it said on its transparency website.

This combined with the Belleville-2 delay to end-February already amountsto a reduction of around 3 TWh in planned reactor output, Platts calculationsshowed.

The availability of Europe's biggest single power plant fleet is key toEuropean power and gas markets especially during the winter months.

--Andreas Franke, andreas.franke@spglobal.com

--Edited by Jonathan Loades-Carter, jonathan.carter@spglobal.com