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05 May 2016

France's Nuclear Giant Areva Admits to '400 Irregularities' in Power Plant Parts

The British government is poised to finalise a multi-billion
pound contract to build reactors at Hinckley Point
designed by Areva.  Credit:  EDF Energy/PA
France's nuclear giant Areva admits to '400 irregularities' in power plant parts
by Henry Samuel, Paris, The Telegraph, 
4 May 2016

France's ailing nuclear giant, Areva, faced a major scandal on Tuesday after the country’s nuclear watchdog confirmed there have been “irregularities” in 400 parts produced in its reactors since 1965, and that “around 50 are currently in service in France’s nuclear power plant fleet”.

France’s independent Nuclear Safety Authority, ASN, said the “irregularities” were listed in an audit it had ordered from Areva after it detected a “very serious anomaly" in a reactor vessel in the country’s Flamanville EPR nuclear plant, the same model Britain plans to use for two new plants at Hinkley Point.

The fault in the vessel destined to house the plant's nuclear fuel and confine its radioactivity was detected last year.

“These irregularities consist in incoherencies, modifications or omissions in manufacturing dossiers,” ASN said in a statement.

The revelation came hours after Areva’s director general admitted that 400 documents assessing whether parts of nuclear plants met required standards may have been "falsified”.

The doubts over documents supposed to rubber-stamp the quality of parts destined for new-generation nuclear power reactors will be a cause for serious concern for the British government as it is poised to finalise a controversial, multi-billion pound contract to build reactors at Hinkley Point designed by Areva.

Areva launched an audit late 2015 into anomalies at the Le Creusot Forge site, which specialises in highly complex moulded parts for new-generation nuclear reactors.

According to Les Echos, an operator conducted tests on metal parts then wrote down his findings on a host of parameters.

“When a value was obtained at the upper end of the required norm, the written reports of certain manufacturing reports were allegedly modified,” it wrote. This was the case for around 400 parts, it wrote.

ASN said it has asked Areva to transmit as soon as possible the list of parts concerned and its analysis of the consequences on the safety of installations”.

The explosive revelations came just hours after Emmanuel Macron, the French economy minister, visited the site.

During the visit, Mr Macron reiterated the French government’s support for the Hinkley Point project, which unions at EDF have argued is too expensive for the cash-strapped French electricity utility due to manage it.

“Hinkley Point is an essential project for this factory and I have come to restate the government’s commitment to the project without which there would be hundreds of job losses at the Le Creusot site,” he told unions.

“I believe in the need to undertake big export projects for the French nuclear industry and in particular Hinkley Point,” he went on.

"It will enable us to continue to strengthen our skills, to make us even stronger and to conquer new markets.”

His words came days after Mr Macron confirmed that the final decision on whether to go ahead with the project would be delayed until at least September, casting fresh doubt over the likelihood of the plant starting up in 2025 as planned.

Mr Macron issued the latest delayed timescale after announcing that a financial bailout for developer EDF had been agreed with the French state, its majority shareholder, but that the company would embark on a 60-day consultation with unions hostile to the project.

Hinckley Point in numbers:

£18 billion
EDF estimate of construction cost
3.2 GW Capacity of plant
5.8 million Number of homes it could power
5,600 People to be employed on site at peak construction
25,000  Total number of jobs that could be created
£92.50 Price to be paid (in 2012 money) for each MWh unit of electricity - more than double the current market price of power
35 years Duration of subsidy contract agreed by ministers

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