17 February 2010 - EDF could face "massive" new investment to extend the life of its French nuclear reactors from 40 years to 60 years, the country's safety authority has warned, reports the Financial Times.
Analysts estimate that keeping the reactors in operation for as long as 60 years could add an extra EUR3bn ($4.1bn) in cash flow per year for the French state-controlled utility. A 60-year life is already common in countries such as the USA, where more than half the 100 reactors in operation have had their licences extended beyond 40 years.
André-Claude Lacoste, president of the French nuclear safety authority, said yesterday that the watchdog was "beginning to treat" the question of the conditions EDF would have to meet to extend the life of its reactors beyond 40 years. "To go beyond that without doubt would require massive investment," he warned.
The warning came as the regulator revealed that EDF has already been forced to commit hundreds of millions of euros to replacing the ageing steam generators on 34 of its 58 reactors. The watchdog said that although it was generally satisfied with EDF's management of its reactor fleet, it had observed several "anomalies" in elements of the steam generators - such as blocked water tubes and corrosion - that have led to a series of unexpected shutdowns in recent years.
As a result, EDF pledged to replace the equipment on all its 900 MW reactors, at a cost of tens of millions of euros per generator, Mr Lacoste said.
The extension is important to EDF as it has estimated that for an investment of about EUR400m ($551m) per reactor, it can add value of EUR1.2bn by deferring the EUR4bn cost of a new plant and maintaining the reactor's cash flow. But the biggest potential windfalls could come from the writeback of provisions on decommissioning.
But Mr Lacoste warned that there was no guarantee that EDF's reactors would operate for as long as 60 years, even if the safety authority gave its approval. The last time the French utility asked for an extension on a reactor's lifecycle, the safety authority's investment demands had been so heavy that "EDF decided to stop operations", he said.
In France there is no set term for the life of reactors, with extensions granted after inspections every 10 years. The watchdog will decide at the beginning of next year whether to grant the two oldest in operation a licence that would take them to 40 years.
The USA safety authority is reported to be preparing to examine a request for an extension to 80 years as techniques for replacing heavy equipment such as steam generators become commonplace.