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12 French reactors out of 56 victims of the “corrosion problem”, the Safety Authority wants to reassure

Is the mystery solved? The Nuclear Safety Authority wants in any case to reassure on the state of the French nuclear fleet. In its annual report delivered on Tuesday May 17, 2022, it returns to the technical problem detected at the end of last year on several reactors.

The sector policeman, who remains cautious at this stage, compares the corrosion problems on part of the reactors and and the design of the most recent reactors. ASN President, Bernard Doroszczuk, thus spoke of a serious problem: “At this stage, in respect of stress corrosion, EDF has shut down or extended the scheduled outages of 12 reactors for in-depth expertise and, where necessary, repair“, he pointed out.

Currently, therefore, 12 out of 56 reactors have been shut down or have had their shutdown extended due to a corrosion problem on the primary circuit piping, the one that affects the core. These problems were detected or suspected at the level of the welds of the bends of the safety injection pipes which make it possible to cool the reactor in the event of an accident. This so-called “stress” corrosion results in small cracks.

However, this problem does not, or only slightly, concern the oldest generation plants, the most numerous in the fleet. The nuclear reactors commissioned in the 1980s have so far escaped the corrosion problem detected last December. With 900 MW, they are less powerful than those of the following generations, but they constitute the bulk of the units in service: 32 out of 56.seem at this stage to favor a preponderant cause, which is linked to the geometry of the lines of the pipes“, indicated Bernard Doroszczuk. The president of the Nuclear Safety Authority thus hypothesizes that they are spared because they are less modified than their successors.

Their construction is indeed closer to the original model of the American Westinghouse, when the piping of the following models has been modified more in depth. The studies are therefore focusing on a design problem on these more recent models.

>> Nuclear: how EDF is preparing the ground by buying land to build future EPRs

A serious problem which will require large-scale treatment over several years and will mobilize part of the resources in competent technicians, according to the experts, even though the nuclear sector must be put in working order for the site of the century: the construction of the new generation of EPR 2 power plants. Cécile Arbouille, General Delegate of Gifen: “There are professions on which we know that there are tensions, that is to say on which we must be vigilant, but we have no shortage. Welding and pipefitting companies in France can provide this necessary workforce“, assures Cécile Arbouille, general delegate of Gifen, the group of nuclear industries.

EDF carried out diagnostic work on 35 welds and wants to appraise more than 105 more by the end of June. But there is still some doubt about the older generation reactors, because at this stage they have been studied less than the most recent ones. Of its fleet of 56 reactors, EDF currently has 29 shut down.

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