Regulator unaware of fresh delays at EDF's Flamanville 3 nuclear reactor

PARIS, May 28 (Reuters) - French nuclear regulator ASN said on Thursday it was not aware of fresh delays in the construction of EDF’s Flamanville 3 EPR nuclear reactor, despite the coronavirus outbreak disrupting works.

State-controlled utility EDF, which operates France’s 57 nuclear reactors, had previously said that the pandemic had slowed construction work at the reactor in the north of France, but it did not say if it would lead to further delays.

The project is running more than a decade behind schedule and it is now expected to start around 2023 after the regulator demanded EDF repair defective welds.

ASN’s head Bernard Doroszczuk, told a French Senate hearing on Thursday that some hundreds of welds, and eight other difficult-to-reach enclosure crossing welds, are still expected to be redone before the reactor is commissioned.

Repairs have started on the most accessible welds but not on the enclosure crossing welds which require a fine-tuning process, the first stages of which are underway in the United States, with an American supplier, he said.

“Overall, the process of repairing, refurbishing or checking the reactor seems to be going smoothly compared to the schedule that was announced, but obviously I can’t predict what will happen next,” Doroszczuk said.

He said safety levels at French nuclear facilities remained “acceptable” but operational rigor at EDF’s nuclear power plants declined in 2019, citing several safety lapses.

Doroszczuk said that due to capacity issues at EDF, ASN would likely modify a plan to extend the lifespan of EDF’s 900 megawatt reactors. The watchdog is expected to make a generic ruling on the extension of the lifespan of 32 reactors by the end of the year. (Reporting by Benjamin Mallet Writing by Forrest Crellin Editing by Bate Felix, Kirsten Donovan)