Nuclear disaster fears after huge crack appears in French EDF reactor

Nuclear energy should be expanded in UK claims expert

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A large crack has been discovered in a nuclear reactor in France, leaving the country’s state-owned utility company to shut down some reactors. The damage was first detected at the end of February on a backup circuit at EDF’s Penly 1 reactor. France’s nuclear safety watchdog, ANS, has now asked the company to “revise its strategy” for repairing its plants. The crack was found in a part of the reactor which EDF had previously not considered prone to damage.

The damage was found following five months of intensive repair works at the site.

An EDF spokesperson said they aim to have the reactor back up and running in May.

EDF said in a statement that they detected a “significant defect of corrosion under constraint” on a pipe that is used to cool the reactor.

Meanwhile, ASN’s statement said: “This line was considered by EDF not to be susceptible to stress corrosion cracking, mainly because of its geometry. However, this weld was repaired twice during the construction of the reactor, which is likely to modify its mechanical properties and the internal stresses of the metal in this area.”

Yves Marignac, an energy expert and member of the ASN’s permanent expert groups, added: “What is new is the depth of the crack, i.e. 85 percent of the thickness of the pipe, and the explanatory factor linked to this notion of double repair during a circuit realignment operation.

“The fact that larger cracks are possible raises the question of maintaining the operation of the six reactors of the same type P’4” pending their preventive repair, announced in December by EDF for the year 2023.

“Because of its potential consequences and the increased probability of a rupture, the ASN classifies it at level 2 of the INES scale (which has 8 levels) for reactor 1 of the Penly nuclear power plant and at level 1 for the other reactors concerned.”

EDF has endured a turbulent time in recent months. Last year, the company faced a surge in outages due to problems related to stress corrosion.

The French electricity transmission network RTE published a report earlier this year explaining EDF’s problems in 2022.

They said: “Total electricity production is at its lowest level since 1992, due to weak nuclear and hydraulic production.”

This reduction in nuclear output was borne out in other figures. In 2022, 62.7 percent of French electricity came from nuclear plants. This was down from 69 percent in 2021 and over 70 percent in the years before this.

France has traditionally relied on nuclear power as its primary source of energy.

Energy supplies across Europe were heavily disrupted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

However, Xavier Piechaczyk, Chairman of the Board at RTE, said earlier this year that France has “shown its resilience and its security of supply has been guaranteed.”

Additional reporting by Maria Ortega.

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