The French government on 28 October gave EDF a month to draw up plans to tackle skills shortages and other problems which ministers believe have delayed nuclear projects and damaged the reputation of the nuclear industry.
In particular, construction of an EPR at Flamanville is running more than a decade behind schedule and is significantly over-budget, as are a number of overseas projects. However, a state-backed audit of Flamanville released that same day indicates that the industry faces wider problems. The audit, conducted by former PSA Group chief Jean-Martin Folz, highlights planning deficiencies and a lack of direction at Flamanville in the early stages of the project, as well as poor coordination with suppliers, but also says France has lost industrial expertise in the sector.
Presenting the report, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said: “The nuclear sector has to get back on track. It’s a question of energy sovereignty.” Skills shortages were so severe that most of the weldings in the Flamanville project had to be done by foreign sub-contractors, he added.
The audit also pointed to the absence of a clear project leader for Flamanville from the outset, noting that EDF had a strained relationship with suppliers, and in particular Areva. The rivalry with Areva, now known as Framatome has lessened since 2018 when the company became 75% controlled by EDF. Le Maire gave EDF CEO Jean-Bernard Levy a month to present his proposals and said the government would check on how the action plan was being implemented in 2020. Levy acknowledged that the French nuclear industry “is going through a difficult time”, in the same news conference, adding that EDF would “double down on its efforts”.
Flamanville 3 construction work began in December 2007 and the 1650 MWe EPR reactor was originally expected to start commercial operation in 2013 at a cost of €3.3 billion ($3.7 billion). Earlier in October EDF said necessary repairs to the reactor's main secondary system penetration welds would push up the cost to €12.4 billion. Fuel loading has been delayed until the end of 2022.
"The construction of the Flamanville EPR will have accumulated so many additional costs and delays that it can only be considered a failure for EDF; but the main reasons for this failure are clearly identifiable and some recommendations can be made," said Folz's report.
Unit 1 of the Taishan nuclear platn in China's Guangdong province became the first EPR to enter commercial operation in December 2018. Taishan 2 began commercial operation in September. Olkiluoto 3 in Finland, the first-of-a-kind EPR, has finished hot testing and is preparing to load fuel but is more than 10 years behind schedule. The two EPR units under construction at the Hinkley Point C project in Somerset, UK, have also faced delays and cost increases.
Folz noted that the commissioning and operation of the EPR reactors in Taishan, China, had shown "the relevance of the concept and design of the EPR". However, he added that improvements in the constructability and reductions in the cost of EPR units should be made without losing the experience gained so far in order for series construction of reactors to resume.
The Flamanville setbacks ae not attributable to the current project management team, said the report, which recommended reorganisation. EDF should establish a powerful project team, with its own resources and permanent staff, which uses the most modern project management techniques, and is under a high-level hierarchical supervision. It should also improve coordination with suppliers and the nuclear safety authority, and should improve training for workers, especially welders. EDF must also develop or renew a culture of quality.
Le Maire said the action plan would be reviewed by the end of 2020 before the French government takes a decision on constructing any new reactors.