(All translations by Blog authors)
Flamanville EPR: “Start-up does not seem possible before 2023” and it is doubtful “that it will ever start up”, according to négaWatt 
(Interview on France Info, 7.4.2021. : https://www.francetvinfo.fr/societe/nucleaire/epr-de-flamanville-le-demarrage-ne-semble-pas-envisageable-avant-2023-et-on-peut-douter-qu-il-demarre-un-jour-selon-negawatt_4362837.html)
“The decision to stop the costs is extremely difficult to take because we are talking about an investment that is close to 20 billion euros”, explains the energy expert and spokesperson for the association, Yves Marignac.
The Flamanville EPR will require “heavy” modifications, explained the president of the Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) on Wednesday 7 April during a hearing in the Senate. He considered that the test programme was satisfactory, but that EDF had “no more margins” to proceed with the resumption of defective welds. “The start-up of the EPR does not seem possible before 2023 at the earliest and we can question the possibility that this reactor will start up one day,” commented Yves Marignac, energy expert and spokesman for the negaWatt association, on franceinfo.
franceinfo: What do you think of this statement by the Nuclear Safety Authority?
Yves Marignac: We are not used to the president of the Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) using such strong words. That said, these words are in line with the ASN’s increasing firmness in this matter. This firmness seems all the more necessary as the ASN has its share of responsibility in this drift since a certain number of problems that EDF must resolve today go back several years. The problem of the piquage [the part where the connection is located] on the reactor circuits technically dates back to 2006 and it is only today that we realise that there are problems.
“The common feature is that each time, the problems only appeared, even though they were technically identifiable beforehand, once all the things were in place and there was a form of technical irreversibility.”
So too late to do anything about it?
Too late to correct the situation without ever knowing what part of the loss of competence prevented the problem from being identified and what part of the cover-up at different levels of management and the responsibility of the Nuclear Safety Authority for not having seen these problems in time or not having intervened upstream. Obviously, with such sensitive equipment and installations, carrying out repairs after the fact creates new difficulties and new risks, as well as significant delays. This is the situation we are in today.
There is still a long way to go before a possible opening. Do you think it will be possible?
You have to remember that the project started in 2007 and that EDF was planning to start in 2012. Today we are working on modifications, work and repairs that will probably last throughout 2021 and 2022, to bring us to 2023 at best. Each new problem leads to new checks which bring new problems, so we cannot exclude the possibility of other difficulties appearing in the coming months or years. So the start-up of the EPR does not seem possible before 2023 at the earliest, and we can question the possibility of this reactor starting up one day, since there is no guarantee that EDF will provide all the necessary solutions.
Does the Nuclear Safety Authority also have any doubts?
It is difficult to say, but it seems that this latest problem with the circuit taps connected to the main circuit that cools the reactor raises questions about other possible quality problems elsewhere on the primary circuit. This is perhaps what the ASN has in mind. Perhaps the ASN is worried that we are not at the end of the difficulties and problems to be identified and resolved before a possible start-up. The decision to stop the costs is extremely difficult to take because we are talking about an investment of around 20 billion euros. Giving up on the start-up of this EPR seems to be too big to take.
Project “Hercules”: the French state plans to take over EDF’s nuclear fleet
LeMonde publishes extracts from a government project to dismantle the national electricity company EDF and to take over 100% of the nuclear sector by the State: “The executive notes that “the company is no longer in a position to finance its development”, given the current remuneration mechanism for nuclear power. It is even more precise, estimating that this situation “does not sufficiently guarantee, in all circumstances, the coverage of costs and does not allow it to carry out the investments necessary to continue the optimal exploitation of the nuclear park”. This means that the government considers that EDF can no longer guarantee the proper functioning – and therefore the safety – of the 56 French reactors. Then: “This project would consecrate a 100% state ownership of the nuclear, thermal and hydraulic power plants.” The new EDF, 100% public, would hold more than 80% of electricity production in France and would not be listed on the stock exchange. This entity would have a subsidiary, also 100% public, which would own EDF’s dams.”
The new delay in the start-up and the new extra costs of the Flamanville nuclear power plant have provoked other press comments, notably in Le Monde, Le Figaro, Actu.fr, capital.fr. And the story of this EPR (European Pressurized Reactor) looks more and more the same as the project Superphénix, the fast-breeder reactor project, stopped in 1997 after an investment of about 60 billion francs (about 10 billion euros). Finally, the die has not been cast, but we seem to be getting closer to the final amen.
The case of Flamanville is obviously reminiscent of the difficulties encountered by the Hinkley Point EPR project in England and the Olkiluoto project in Finland, both of which are financial abysses and delayed projects. Under these circumstances, the nuclear industry based on French ERPs no longer seems promising and one wonders if (and if so, where) the journey will continue.
When Areva was dismantled (“restructured”) in 2016, the nuclear reactor division, which was already loss-making at that time, was transferred to EDF (Électricité de France). Knowing that this company would have the mandate to renew the 56 reactors currently in operation over the next two to three decades, and knowing the difficulties concerning the option of replacing them with EPRs, one could suspect that EDF would not have broad enough shoulders.
And here is the solution: assuming that the project published by Le Monde is indeed the one that will be retained by the players, the answer given by the French State would obviously be the “Project Hercules”: the State would take over the entire nuclear business of EDF, including the existing debts and the commitment to invest tens of billions of Euros in a new generation of reactors, financed by the taxpayer and the State’s debt.
So, the critics who have been doubting the economic viability of nuclear power for years were right: without direct or indirect subsidies, nuclear power is dead. And in this story we are not even talking about the inexorable costs of waste disposal.
 négaWatt is an association that defines its activity as follows: “To promote and develop the concept and practice of negaWatts, i.e. the development of energy sobriety, energy efficiency and renewable energy. “