Corrosion of nuclear reactors further undermines the prospects for EDF

Bugey Nuclear Power Plant, January 25, 2022, Saint-Voulbas, Ain Province (JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK/AFP/Archives)

Ultimately, EDF’s results this year will be even worse than expected due to corrosion problems in its nuclear fleet, which have caused 12 reactor shutdowns and will severely limit production this year.

The electricity producer now estimates that the planned 2022 reduction in nuclear power generation will cost it 18.5 billion euros in EBITDA (gross operating surplus) instead of the 16 billion euros announced in March (revised to 14 billion) in May. statement on Thursday.

For comparison, in 2021, EDF’s EBITDA was 18 billion euros.

The group also points out once again “to adjust its estimate of nuclear energy production for 2022 to 280-300 TWh from 295-315 TWh previously.”

“EDF is continuing its inspection program and, together with the nuclear industry, is preparing to repair sections of pipelines affected by stress corrosion,” the group explains.

“We are planning repairs more carefully,” Régis Clément, deputy director of nuclear operations, said at a press conference.

To date, 12 out of 56 reactors have actually been shut down due to proven or suspected “stress corrosion” (SCC) phenomena.

EDF counts “four for which forensics confirmed CSC,” according to the manager, including three (Civaux 1, Chooz 1, Penly 1) with corrosion on both Emergency Injection Systems (RIS) – a key circuit that allows the reactor to cool in the event of alarm – and turn off the cooling circuit (RRA). The Chinon B3 reactor has a weld defect, but only in the RRA circuit.

“Design today is the reason that seems to us to prevail,” emphasized Régis Clément, a reason that seems to be emphasized by welding.

On Tuesday, this project was already mentioned by the President of the Office for Nuclear Safety (ASN) Bernard Doroshchuk. A reason that could explain why the oldest and most numerous 900 MW reactors are, in his words, “little or not at all susceptible” to the phenomenon of corrosion.

“At this stage, by 2022, EDF believes that there is no need to expect more reactor shutdowns,” points out the group, which, on the other hand, has scheduled “interim shutdowns” from Q2 2023 for four reactors.

“Our reactors are working today because they are safe,” Régis Clément assured.

“political game”

“When you want to kill your dog, you say it has rabies,” responded Fabrice Coudour, federal secretary of the FNME-CGT, who sees the publication of these figures as a “political game to justify Hercules”, a plan for restructuring the EDF. which the management and management of the group would like to bring back to the table after temporarily abandoning it last year.

Emmanuel Macron did mention during the presidential campaign about the renationalization of the EDF as part of a “broader reform”.

“We are increasing the probability of nationalization, which we are raising to 75% versus 50% previously,” Oddo BHF analysts comment in a note. “This hypothesis could become a government priority after next month’s legislative election deadline, given the fragile outlook for EDF,” they write.

The already heavily indebted group is facing a number of challenges: the construction of new EPRs announced by President Emmanuel Macron, the expansion of reactors, the growth of renewable energy…

The group has already warned about the impact of the State of the Arenh mechanism (regulated access to electricity from historic nuclear power) on its results. This mechanism obliges EDF to sell electricity at a low price, which costs much more in the markets, and the state has increased volumes to keep bills from rising.

The deteriorating financial outlook justifies a “suspension” of this device, said Amélie Henri, CFE-Unsa Energy’s national secretary for EDF.

Photo taken March 27, 2007 in Belleville-sur-Loire.
Photo taken March 27, 2007 in Belleville-sur-Loire. (ALAIN JOCARD/AFP/Archives)

Faced with this difficult context, the group’s CEO announced last Thursday a “gracious appeal” against the government’s decision, while the state is its largest shareholder.