* ASN says French nuclear safety now better than year ago
* But Flamanville documentation few months behind schedule (Adds ASN comments)
By Geert De Clercq
PARIS, Jan 29 (Reuters) - The start-up calendar is “tight” regarding French state-controlled utility EDF’s nuclear reactor which is under construction in Flamanville, northern France, said the head of French nuclear regulator ASN.
EDF said in October it planned to load fuel in the long-delayed Flamanville European Pressurized Reactor (EPR) by the end of the fourth quarter of 2018, and aims for it to be fully up and running in late 2019.
ASN head Pierre-Franck Chevet told reporters on Monday that the regulator will need a few months to review EDF’s documentation relating to the reactor startup, and that this review needs to be completed before fuel can be loaded.
An ASN official told Reuters on the sidelines of the news conference that EDF was a few months behind schedule in providing the necessary documentation to the regulator.
Chevet also said that the safety level at EDF’s nuclear plants was now generally better than a year ago, because the problem of carbon segregation in the steel of some reactor components has now been solved.
At the end of 2016, the ASN had ordered EDF to close 12 reactors following the discovery of excessive carbon concentrations in the steel of their steam generators, which makes the components more brittle. The ASN authorised their restart in March 2017.
A review of manufacturing documentation at EDF-owned nuclear foundry Creusot Forge was now 50 percent complete and should be finished by year-end, Chevet said.
Worries about the falsification of the documentation sparked a major review of the paperwork in 2016 and led to the closure of two reactors, of which one, in Fessenheim, northeast France, remains closed.
Chevet said that the financial restructuring of the French nuclear industry was also positive for nuclear safety.
After years of losses wiped out the equity of nuclear group Areva, the firm was split up and recapitalised by the French state in an operation that was finalised late last year.
Areva’s nuclear reactor unit has been sold to EDF while its nuclear fuel and uranium mining activities have been split off into a separate unit and rebranded Orano.
Chevet confirmed that the ASN would give a final ruling on the lifespan extension of EDF’s nuclear reactors in 2021, with an initial ruling due in 2020.
EDF wants to extend the lifespan of its reactors from 40 to 50 years but needs ASN approval in principle as well as individual approval for each reactor,
The ASN wants EDF to upgrade safety at each of the reactors, including studying the possibility of adding a core catcher, a giant ashtray-like concrete bowl below the reactor that can contain the nuclear fuel in case of a meltdown. (Reporting by Geert De Clercq; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta)