France's EDF fixing pipe problem at 20 nuclear reactors

PARIS (Reuters) - French utility EDF is repairing pumping station pipes at 20 nuclear reactors after discovering they might not be strong enough to withstand earthquakes, posing a risk to cooling systems, it said on Wednesday.

The logo of France's state-owned electricity company EDF is seen on the company's headquarters in Paris, France, November 24, 2016. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

In a note to French nuclear regulator ASN, EDF classified the problem as a ‘level 2’ incident out of 7 on the international nuclear and radiological event scale (INES).

It said the faults had no impact on the environment or on those working at the reactors.

ASN could not be immediately reached for comment.

“In-depth investigations have revealed thinning of the metal in certain sections of piping, thus making it impossible to guarantee their seismic resistance in the event of a design-base-type earthquake,” EDF said in its note.

“This could potentially cause flooding in the pump houses of twenty reactor units, thereby resulting in the functional loss of both reactor cooling water systems,” it added.

EDF said pipes at nine reactors - Belleville 1-2, Cattenom 3-4, Dampierre 1-2, Golfech 1-2, and Saint-Laurent-des-Eaux B1 - had been reinforced.

Work is ongoing at five reactors which are currently offline - Chinon B3, Cruas 1, Dampierre 3, Nogent 1, Saint-Laurent-des-Eaux B2 - and will be completed before they restart.

EDF said that for six other reactors now online - Cattenom 1-2, Chinon B4, Cruas 4, Dampierre 4, Nogent 2 - reinforcements had been completed on one of each reactor’s two cooling water systems, ensuring the plants could operate safely even in the event of an earthquake.

The utility added that at nine other reactors - Cruas 2-3, Paluel 3-4, Saint-Alban 1-2 and Tricastin 1-3-4 - investigations had revealed that a risk of pump-house flooding or loss of the reactor cooling water system could not be ruled out, and reinforcement works were underway.

The problem at these reactors, however, does not carry a high risk and is classified as level zero, EDF said.


EDF did not say how long the works would last, adding fresh uncertainty over French nuclear power supply in the weeks ahead.

There are growing concerns that France, which depends on atomic power for over 75 percent of its electricity needs, could face tight power supplies in the coming weeks due to prolonged outages at several reactors.

After several delays in the restart of some reactors following maintenance and a review ordered by the nuclear watchdog, 21 out of France’s 58 nuclear reactors are offline, putting available nuclear capacity at 63.80 percent of the total. [POWER/FR]

The supply worries have driven French and German forward power prices to new heights. French power contracts for 2018 delivery hit a record high of 43.55 euros ($51.36) a megawatt hour (MWh) on Wednesday, up 2.35 percent.

EDF, which has lowered its 2017 nuclear generation target to 385-392 terawatt hours (TWh) from 390-400 TWh, said on Monday its cumulative nuclear output so far this year was down 1.3 percent compared with same period last year.

Reporting by Bate Felix; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Mark Potter