The Minister visits Le Creusot to announce a new relocation

While France is organizing a vast revival of its nuclear industry, it also aims to locate as much of the value chain as possible on national territory. In this context, the Minister of Energy Transition, Agnès Pannier-Runacher, visited the Framatome plant in Le Creusot to announce the relocation of the manufacture of reactor internals.

The Minister for Energy Transition, Agnès Pannier-Runacher, visited the Framatome plant in Le Creusot (Saône-et-Loire) on Friday, March 3. The first objective was to mark the anniversary of Emmanuel Macron’s speech in Belfort in February 2022, which envisaged a major nuclear industry revival. The second objective was to inaugurate the launch of a new project for relocating the industry, that of the reactor internals.

The Le Creusot plant is one of the only forges in the world capable of producing the large parts needed to manufacture the primary components of the nuclear island for third-generation nuclear reactors. The site carries out forging, heat treatment, and machining before assembling the primary loop components. In total, Framatome currently employs nearly 3,000 people in Burgundy-French County. It recruits and trains nearly 400 people per year in the region. The Creusot plant has already been preparing for the French program for 18 months, in particular, to standardize all settings for future production.

Update on the revival of the nuclear industry

One year after the Belfort speech, Agnès Pannier-Runacher quoted President Emmanuel Macron: “Our energy and ecological future depends on nuclear power. She said that given the demands of today’s fight against global warming, we could not afford to be deprived of a lever for decarbonization. “To say otherwise is to play into the hands of the climate skeptics,” she added.

She then reviewed the work carried out over the past year and the work that remains to be done. She recalled that we have just passed the first milestone, that of the democracy of public debate. The national citizen consultation on the energy mix, which closed on January 18, has collected more than 30,000 contributions. The public debate on the EPR2 reactor construction program, organized by the CNDP, ended on February 27. It ended with a youth forum with 200 participants aged between 18 and 35, selected randomly from all French regions.

Once the conclusions of the debate are known, the second milestone for EDF will be to submit its application for authorization of the first pair of EPR2 reactors at Penly. The third milestone is the restructuring of the industry, in particular with the creation of the Interministerial Delegation for the New Nuclear Power Plant, which will ensure that “best practices in organization, industrial practices, and project management are implemented. For the State, this will mean supporting this project, which will be “the most significant industrial project launched since the beginning of this century.

For the Minister, the ambition and the roadmap are now very clear. The Minister reiterated the need for a “Marshall Plan for skills” in 2023: the industry must recruit more than 5,500 people per year at EDF, Framatome, and Orano alone, and more than 10,000 per year across the industry. And “what will make this program a success will be the men and women, whether at EDF, Framatome, the entire industry, or the regulatory authorities and experts.

She added, on the eve of the operation on nuclear professions launched by the sector, that “we must give ourselves the means to recruit the best people, to motivate them, to keep them and to ensure that more young people and more people undergoing retraining can come to this program, without undressing other industries.

The project to relocate the reactor internals

Framatome has also initiated a number of projects to relocate manufacturing and strategic activities, particularly for the EPR2 program. On March 3, it was announced that Framatome would re-internally manufacture the reactor internals for the EPR2 at Le Creusot, which Skoda currently manufactures in the Czech Republic. As a reminder, the reactor vessel internals forms the support for the fuel assemblies in the reactor core and are, therefore, essential elements for nuclear safety. They are composed of various stainless steel parts (lower internals, upper internals, heavy partitions, bundle guides), which ensure the support of the fuel elements and the guidance of the bundle guides and thermocouples passing through the vessel cover.

Historically, the French nuclear power plants’ tank internals have been manufactured in Burgundy. However, the EPR vessel internals has been subcontracted to Framatome from OL3 (Olkiluoto3 – Finland) to manufacture HPC (Hinkley Point C). Today, France does not have the industrial means to manufacture the internals of EPR2 reactors. Depending on a single subcontractor represents a risk regarding supply chain robustness.

Framatome has acquired a building in Le Creusot for this relocation project. The new workshop will be structured and dimensioned to meet the manufacturing requirements of the EPR2 internals (part sizes, stainless steel material, dimensional tolerances) and to take into account the feedback from previous manufacturing (machining, welding). Framatome plans to purchase heavy equipment and modernize existing tools.

This relocation of activity will be accompanied by creation of at least 50 highly qualified direct jobs and more than 150 indirect jobs. The workshop will be commissioned in 2025 for manufacturing in the first quarter of 2026. ■

By Valérie Faudon, General Delegate of Sfen