French nuclear power output rebounded strongly this quarter, but risks remain with such high average levels unlikely to be repeated before 2020 amid the regulator's Creusot review ongoing this year and extended maintenance stops scheduled for next year, an analysis of monthly production data and reactor availability schedules by S&P Global Platts show.
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Nuclear output this quarter is set to average above 52 GW, up by over 20% from the 43 GW average during Q4 2017, the lowest winter quarter average for current French nuclear fleet, data aggregated from grid operator RTE show.
According to monthly production forecasts by S&P Global Platts Analytics based on EDF's maintenance schedules, the Q1 2018 average is unlikely to be reached again this year or next year mainly due to the planned decommissioning of the Fessenheim NPP by end-2018 and the full ramp-up of the new Flammanville-3 reactor in Q4 2019.
"The period from June to August 2019 might set new historical minima for the French nuclear output, with the annual generation estimated to drop to 2017 levels," Platts Analytics said in its latest European Electricity Monthly Outlook report published February 28.
EDF itself assumes a lower output for 2019 without giving a specific figure, while for 2018 the operator assumes 395 TWh of nuclear output, similar to its assumptions for 2017 a year ago with actual 2017 nuclear output falling to 379 TWh, the lowest annual output since 1992.
"EDF emphasizes the uncertainty due to both a complex and busy plan of activities, in relation to several 10-year inspections including two 'first-of-a-kind', and the potential impact of unplanned events and circumstances in relation to nuclear assets," the operator said February 16 in a short note on its transparency website following its annual press conference.
CREUSOT REVIEW KEY RISK FOR 2018
The recent cold spell forced EDF to delay a number of planned maintenance stops into March, adding to major delays for the planned returns of its Fessenheim-2, Belleville-2 and Paluel-2 reactors announced this year already combining to over 6 TWh in lost output for H1 2018, Platts calculations show.
In the Le Creusot review launched last September by the nuclear safety regulator ASN requiring EDF to submit files for all 58 reactors with reactor restarts pending clearance by the ASN, EDF has so far submitted 23 reactor files with the ASN having cleared 12 files by November 2017.
Since then, neither EDF nor the ASN have announced any further clearance with the next scheduled reactor returns now coming into focus in late March.
"The exam of these reactors is still ongoing," an ASN spokeswoman told Platts Wednesday.
In a very detailed update on EDF's website on February 22, the operator flagged further anomalies uncovered, but stated that none of the anomalies affect the safe operation of the reactors.
On top of the 11 reactor files currently with the ASN, the remaining 35 reactor files will need to be reviewed throughout the year with EDF saying it has so far reviewed some 70% of the over 1,600 file dossiers of nuclear parts manufactured by the Creusot Forge, it said.
According to Platts Analytics, the average delay for the first batch of 12 reactors in Q4 2017 was 25 days, not taking into account other operational delays.
"For the remaining plants being checked, it is not excluded that EDF will be able to capitalize on the learning curve and reduce the average delay," Platts Analytics said in its March EEM outlook with an added warning of upside risks remaining throughout the year.
EDF operates France's 58 nuclear reactors and has struggled with extended outages since summer 2016. The availability of Europe 's biggest single power plant fleet is key to European power and gas markets especially during the winter months.
French power prices for the summer (Q2 and Q3) have fully shed their premium acquired during Q4 amid record-low nuclear output trading now around Eur33/MWh, while French Cal 2019 has falling again below Eur40/MWh, but remains well above levels seen a year ago, Platts pricing data shows.
--Andreas Franke, firstname.lastname@example.org