the long way before a possible extension of reactors to 80 years

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The construction site of the European pressurized reactor (EPR) project, in Flamanville (Manche), on November 16, 2016.

The reflection on a possible extension of French nuclear reactors up to 80 years “is not a taboo at all”. At least according to the very commented words of Cédric Lewandowski, executive director of the EDF group, the operator of the park. “The subject is to be put on the table”he insisted, auditioned on January 19, during a commission of inquiry of the National Assembly on the sovereignty and energy independence of France.

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Depreciating as much as possible the 56 existing reactors – 37 years old on average – is part of EDF’s strategy. Heavily indebted, the group, on the way to becoming 100% public again, intends “make best use” of his “industrial heritage”he reminds the World. Especially since it is still waiting for the commissioning of the Flamanville EPR reactor (Manche), despite a first “concrete” poured in 2007, while preparing for the possibility of new sites wanted by the government for six “EPR 2 “.

In the country, the reactors operate without a priori time limit – to the chagrin of the anti-nuclear movement, which warns about the issue of radioactive waste. Every ten years, an in-depth review for each unit, however, makes it possible to determine whether it is fit to operate for another ten years. A crucial step under the supervision of an independent entity, the Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN).

Aging of materials

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In 2021, it opened the “prospect for continued operation” up to 50 years for the 32 oldest reactors, those with a power of 900 megawatts (MW) each. All this subject to the fourth ten-year inspection. A step that is all the more important since“a hypothesis of forty years of operation” existed during the design of these reactors, underlines the ASN.

EDF has already initiated studies with a view to operating these first units for ” sixty years or more”. It is, explains the electrician, of “Demonstrate in particular the ability of equipment such as containment enclosures and reactor vessels to perform their function”. Essential equipment, emphasizes Julien Collet, Deputy Director General of ASN, due to the “international consensus that these two components are not replaceable under reasonable conditions”.

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It is no later than 2026 that the Nuclear Safety Authority hopes to decide on the principle or not of a possible extension beyond six decades. « In 2016 [avant le cycle des quatrièmes visites décennales]adds Mr. Collet, we had asked EDF to also send a file on the operation of the 900 MW tanks up to 60 years, but EDF had only sent that up to 50 years. » One “anticipatory work” to bring, “knowing that the oldest reactors in France will only reach 60 years in about twenty years”.

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