France’s larger reactors OK for 40 years, says regulator

Posted by World Nuclear News on 31 March 2015 in WNN

French nuclear regulators have found no generic elements that would compromise the safety of the country’s 1300 MWe nuclear reactors over a 40-year operating life.

Pierre-Franck Chevet, president of the Autorité De Sûreté Nucléaire (ASN), has notified nuclear operator EDF that to date, no generic issues have been identified that would affect EDF’s ability to control reactor safety up to the reactors’ fourth ten-yearly safety review. The regulator will, at a later date, produce reactor-by-reactor findings based on its analysis of information submitted by EDF at the end of the units’ third ten-yearly inspection.

ASN’s finding is based on EDF’s 2010 generic review of the 1300 MWe class of pressurized water reactors (PWRs). The regulator says that it considers the actions planned or already taken by EDF to assess the condition of the reactors and control ageing issues up to their fourth inspection to be adequate.

However, the regulator notes, these assessments do not take into account any evaluations of the fitness of the units’ reactor pressure vessels for operation beyond 30 years, nor the results of tests carried out during the reactors’ third ten-yearly inspections, which are due to begin in April.

ASN noted that modifications identified by EDF, in particular to improve protection against attack, reduce radioactive emissions in the case of an accident, and to prevent the risk of dewatering of fuel storage pools, would lead to significant improvements in safety.

French nuclear licensing laws require the operator of a reactor to perform an in-depth review of safety at each unit every ten years. The exercise comprises two elements: a compliance review, which ensures the unit complies with applicable safety rules and verifies that any phenomena associated with plant ageing will be manageable for a minimum of ten years; and a safety review, which ensures safety practices are up-to-date with current requirements and incorporate international best practices.

The ASN continuously monitors plants inbetween their ten-yearly inspections, and can suspend the operation of any reactor in the event of a serious or imminent risk.

France’s 20 operating 1300 MWe PWRs cleared their second ten-yearly inspections in 2006 and are now due to embark on their third round of inspections, which would clear them to operate up to their 40th anniversary. The third ten-yearly inspections of the 1300 MWe reactors are due to begin in April, in a program scheduled to take until 2024 to complete.