[Flamanville EPR Series] Fuel loading by the end of March is possible but with no leeway (ASN)

During his New Year greetings to the press, the chairman of the French Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) confirmed that the goal of loading fuel into the Flamanville EPR by the end of March is achievable, even though the schedule is extremely “tight”. He also generally considered the safety level of the nuclear fleet to have been satisfactory in 2023.

According to the schedule provided by EDF, the Flamanville EPR’s fuel is to be loaded in March, aiming for criticality before summer. However, there is still a significant amount of administrative work to complete, the Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) assured on January 30, 2024. “It’s possible, but it’s very tight, there’s no margin, especially if EDF doesn’t provide the last pieces of information we’ve requested,” explained Bernard Doroszczuk, president of the ASN.

He mentioned several important points such as preparing documents for the transition from construction teams to operating teams, conformity certificates for certain pressure equipment, and holding the final public consultation on the reactor’s commissioning. This last step must take place over a minimum period of one month.

Once the fuel is loaded, the EPR will be commissioned before summer with a phased power ramp-up, accompanied by reactor performance verification steps. It is expected to reach its nominal power by the end of 2024.

Satisfactory Safety

Beyond the Flamanville EPR topic, the ASN confirmed that “nuclear safety and radiation protection were maintained at a satisfactory level” in 2023. EDF’s strategy regarding stress corrosion cracking is considered “appropriate”. Meanwhile, pressure has decreased on fuel cycle facilities, especially regarding used fuel storage challenges, thanks to better performance from the Melox plant.

The ASN highlighted three areas of vigilance. First, it calls on operators to identify risks of accidents and aging of facilities linked to the intention to operate “power reactors for up to 60 years and fuel cycle facilities for operation up to or beyond the 2040 horizon set by the Multiannual Energy Programme (PPE)”. [Discover our file on the subject: 50 years and beyond… On the way to long-term operation]

Second, “The enthusiasm generated by innovative reactors (SMR / AMR), which have potentially promising intrinsic safety features, should not overlook the technical and societal questions they raise,” stated the ASN. Bernard Doroszczuk particularly mentioned the work needed on the acceptability of siting reactors outside nuclear sites to benefit industrial sites with low-carbon heat and steam.

Third, “The many projects considered in the nuclear sector require an exceptional effort in terms of skills, project management, and industrial rigour that impacts the entire industry”. Bernard Doroszczuk pointed out industrial rigour deficiencies, sometimes due to second or third-tier suppliers not always being aware of the safety and regulatory requirements associated with the nuclear field. ■

By Ludovic Dupin (Sfen)

Photo: ASN’s New Year greetings to the press on January 30, 2024 – ©ASN