PARIS (Reuters) - France’s nuclear regulator will keep a close eye on workers’ safety at nuclear power plants run by utility EDF when they resume activities suspended during the coronavirus outbreak, the watchdog said on Tuesday.
EDF operates 57 nuclear reactors in France which account for about 70% of the country’s electricity needs. During the coronavirus crisis, it has kept only essential staff working at its plants and suspended maintenance work at some reactors.
France is due to start easing its coronavirus lockdown on May 11, and EDF is preparing to relaunch the backlog of maintenance work.
“The resumption of activities will be a period of extremely close vigilance on the part of the operator; all service providers, and the supervisory authorities,” Bernard Doroszczuk, head of the ASN nuclear regulator, told a French Senate committee hearing on Tuesday.
During the coronavirus outbreak, EDF has been working according to a plan which the utility said allowed it to run its nuclear plants for three months with a 25% reduction in staffing levels, or for two to three weeks with 40% fewer staff.
Underlining that some of EDF’s teams could be feeling stress and fatigue, the ASN said human factors would be integrated in EDF’s plan for reviving operations.
He said certain things would have to be different, maintenance work would be longer and ASN would especially be more vigilant with on-site inspections.
Doroszczuk said the impact of the suspension of activities at nuclear power stations would be felt at least until the spring of next year, and probably until 2022.
EDF expects a sharp drop in its domestic nuclear power output to a record low this year as a result of the fall in business activity caused by the coronavirus crisis.
Reporting by Benjamin Mallet,; Writing by Bate Felix, Editing by Timothy Heritage