French nuclear regulator to grant 60-year licenses for nuclear reactors

Publish date: February 18, 2009

France's Nuclear Safety Authority, ASN, is prepared to give conditional approval for 60-year nuclear power plant operating licenses if Electricite de France (EDF) justifies that length of operation technically, senior ASN management stated last month, Platts reported.

ASN chairman Andre-Claude Lacoste said the agency has asked EDF to submit a detailed safety case for long-term operation of the oldest French power reactors, two units of which are scheduled for relicensing this year after 30th-year outages. Olivier Gupta, ASN deputy general manager responsible for power reactors, said ASN could issue conditional judgment on 50- or 60-year operation provided EDF’s dossier is solid.

EDF senior managers last month expressed confidence that all of the utility’s 900 MW-class pressurized water reactor units – the oldest in its 58-unit fleet – will be licensed for 40 years’ operation, and pledged to "do everything" to stretch their lifetimes to 50 and then 60 years.

ASN is scheduled to rule this year on a further decade of operation for EDF’s oldest reactors, from 30 years to 40 years of lifetime, based on the results of 30-year operation for two pilot units – Tricastin-1 and Fessenheim-1 – and EDF’s technical assessment of the units’ physical state going forward.

In France – as in many countries – there is no specific license limit such as the 40 years typical for US reactors. French operators must instead demonstrate to safety authorities that each unit is safe to continue to operate. Gupta said ASN would continue to review and relicense nuclear units every 10 years.

This is the first time French safety authorities have openly said they were willing to consider endorsement of more than 10 years’ forward operation. A few years ago, Lacoste suggested the regulators might require mid-term reviews for older plants, shortening the licenses in practice to five forward years. ASN officials said the difference lies in the quality of EDF’s technical case for operating its nuclear units to 40 years. At the press event, Lacoste noted that neighboring countries like Switzerland and Germany have power reactors that have exceeded 40 years’ operation.

At an investors’ day meeting in London in december 2008, EDF’s CFO Daniel Camus said that extending each 900 MW PWR’s lifetime to 60 years would create a net value for EDF of Eur1.2 billion/unit ($1.55 billion/unit) and generate a "pretty gigantic" cash flow.

EDF has 34 units in the 900 MW class of PWRs, its oldest. It also has 20 1,300 MW class PWRs, some of which are approaching 20 years’ lifetime this year, and four units of the newer 1,500 MW class.

EDF’s 18 oldest PWRs, all in the 900 MW class, are scheduled to be shut between 2015 and 2020. Camus said keeping them in operation would avoid "massive" investment in new generating capacity during that period, when EDF expects to need between Eur12 billion and Eur20 billion to finance its ambitious nuclear plant construction projects in China, France, the UK, and the US.