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Nov. 09, 2016 11:16AM EST
'Nuclear Industry in France in Crisis,' 20 Reactors Shut Down
By Paul Brown
A third of France's nuclear reactors have been shut down by industry
regulators as revelations emerge about the supply of sub-standard parts.
As investigations into falsified documents and excess quantities of
carbon in steel continue, more closures are expected. This is not yet a
full-blown crisis for the nuclear industry, but it is putting serious
strain on the finances of French nuclear giant EDF and causing
electricity price rises across western Europe.
It is also very bad news for the climate. France is reopening mothballed
coal plants and burning more coal than it has for 32 years. Neighbors,
including Germany, which normally takes cheap nuclear power from the
French, are also powering up old fossil fuel plants and exporting the
electricity to France at premium prices.
Japan's Nuclear Scandal
France is not the only country affected by the scandal. A Japanese
company, the Japan Casting & Forging Corporation, has also allegedly
been involved in falsifying quality control documents for parts supplied
to reactors both at home and in France.
The Japanese nuclear safety organization is now investigating, but so
far no plants in Japan have been ordered to close, partly because most
of them have in any case remained shut since the 2011 Fukushima disaster.
This is a drama that has been unfolding slowly for months. But as more
forged documents and potentially faulty parts have come to light, the
French regulator ASN has begun insisting on shutdowns and inspections to
ensure plants are safe.
One problem is that there is too much carbon in the steel components and
containment vessels, which will make them brittle. The carbon content is
well above specified safety limits, leading to fears that there could be
catastrophic failures in plants currently operating.
The second, related, problem is forged, falsified or incomplete quality
control reports about the components themselves. Areva, the troubled
French state-owned nuclear component manufacturer, is reviewing all
9,000 manufacturing records from its giant forge at Le Creusot dating
back as far as 1943. This includes 6,000 parts made for nuclear
reactors—some of them outside France.
The anomalies were first discovered in 2014 at the plant being built at
Flamanville in northern France. Excess carbon was found in the plant's
pressure vessel. This has caused considerable further cost and even
longer delays to the completion of the flagship reactor. It has still
not been cleared as safe and a final decision will not be taken until
It was the investigations into how this potentially disastrous flaw got
through the safety vetting process that led to the discovery in May this
year of 400 other sub-standard parts and a mass of falsified quality
control documentation. Many of the parts are inside nuclear plants
According to Power magazine, an ASN press relations officer, who
requested anonymity in line with ASN rules, said more nuclear power
plants with suspect parts will be inspected in the next few weeks. "We
are now finding carbon segregation problems from components coming from
both Le Creusot and Japan Casting & Forging. As for now, there are 20
EDF reactors offline," the official said.
And the Japan Times reported that Japan Casting & Forging Corporation is
now also under scrutiny by the country's Nuclear Regulation Authority
because it supplied French plants. With most of Japan's nuclear fleet
closed since Fukushima, there are moves to reopen some reactors.
Shaun Burnie, nuclear specialist at Greenpeace Germany, said: "The
nuclear industry in France is now in crisis as a result of the carbon
test results, with 11 reactors supplied by Japanese steel ordered shut
down and under investigation by the regulator."
"No such testing has been done in Japan … until actual testing is
conducted, the NRA and more importantly the communities living near
nuclear reactors, will not know what risks the nuclear plants pose,"
"The NRA must instruct utilities in Japan to undertake testing as a
matter of urgency." He said the priorities are the Sendai-2 and Ikata-3
reactors, the only plants operating.
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