French nuclear safety needs review ahead of reactor lifespan extensions, newbuilds - ASN

Cooling towers of the Electricite de France (EDF) nuclear power plant are pictured in Saint-Laurent-Nouan, France, November 10, 2022. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe/File Photo

PARIS, Jan 23 (Reuters) - France's nuclear safety needs a global and systemic review as President Emmanuel Macron's government prepares to extend the lifespan of the existing fleet while planning to build new reactors, nuclear agency ASN said on Monday.

Bernard Doroszczuk, head of the French nuclear safety watchdog, also told a news conference that utility EDF (EDF.PA) must explain by end-2024 how it plans to extend the life of its nuclear plants up to or beyond 60 years, in order to formulate a first position on the issue within a further two years.

Doroszczuk said a nuclear safety review needs to anticipate the effects of ageing on nuclear installations as well as new challenges posed by climate change.

The government plans to present new energy and climate legislation this summer that will serve as the legislative framework for plans announced by Macron in February 2022 to start construction of at least six new EPR 2 nuclear reactors and to extend the lifespan of as many reactors as possible.

"We need to identify for which components there may be a limit to their operating lifespan," Doroszczuk said, adding that some components, such as the reactor vessel and the reactor building, cannot be replaced while other components are hard to replace.

"This is not something that can be worked out on the back of an envelope, we cannot decide in a few months whether it is feasible to go beyond 60 years," he said.

As well as better anticipating the long-term consequences of climate change on the current and future fleet, ASN also wants the new climate and energy law to tackle the issue of treatment and recycling of spent nuclar fuel.

During last year's heatwave, the watchdog had to grant waivers in order to let certain reactors continue to operate - which had not happened since 2003.

The agency added that EDF unit Framatome had asked it to delay the replacement of the vessel cover of the EPR reactor under construction in Flamanville so it coincided with the first fuel reloading rather than replacing it at the end of 2024 as currently planned.

ASN said that the safety of French nuclear installations overall in 2022 was satisfactory, despite corrosion problems detected on some reactors.

Reporting by Benjamin Mallet; writing by GV De Clercq; Editing by Kirsten Donovan

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