EDF CEO Jean-Bernard Lévy’s hearing in the National Assembly this Wednesday was eagerly awaited. First to have visibility on the energy situation in France on the eve of a winter that promises to be complicated due to the closure of several nuclear reactors. Then, to listen to a big boss at the end of his career, in theory more free to express himself than usual, even if the violent criticisms expressed recently by the Head of State against him were enough to push him to play low profile. Last week, in fact, Emmanuel Macron publicly highlighted the responsibility of Jean-Bernard Levy in the current setbacks of French nuclear power.
Priority obligations: MEPs immediately questioned him about the supply of electricity for households and businesses this winter. EDF’s CEO wanted to be reassuring. According to Jean-Bernard Lévy, electricity production should prove to be sufficient. “The goal is to have roughly the same electricity production as the previous winter, when things went well. Every Frenchman had had the electricity he needed. explained the one who is preparing to leave his duties which he has held since 2015 as soon as the state has decided on the choice of his successor.
The solution to the energy crisis lies in particular in the smooth functioning of the French nuclear fleet, currently burdened by the scarce availability of reactors. Jean-Bernard Lévy and the senior EDF executives present alongside him at the Palais Bourbon were reassuring. To date, 30 reactors are in operation (27 of which are already connected to the electricity grid, another 3 available at any time) and 25 are off. Among these 25 reactors on break, some forced shutdowns were foreseen for so-called maintenance work. “large fairing”.
25 idle reactors are to be restarted by February
Problem: This ten-year inspection takes much longer since the regulatory tightening following the Fukushima accident in 2011. However, at the same time, EDF faces a shortage of manpower “Due to massive retirements and therefore loss of skills and experience” who do maintenance “much longer” according to Cédric Lewandowski, executive director of the EDF group in charge of nuclear power.
An unexpected difficulty was added to this long-planned work: ten reactors were hit by a phenomenon of corrosion that weakened their pipes. Five others are being investigated for the same suspicion of corrosion. However, Jean-Bernard Lévy boasts a new technique for repairing micro-cracks by means of waves, which avoids direct intervention on the pipes and prolonged blocking of the site.
Soon, Cédric Lewandowski says that the 25 extinguishing reactors will resume service in the coming weeks. According to the program established by EDF, five reactors will reactivate in September, five in October, seven in November, three in December, three in January and two in February. There will not be “permanent interruptions (in the sense of” premature “) this winter”, insisted Jean-Bernard Lévy.
“These exceptional circumstances require urgent action but also a long-term perspective”, He continued. The French nuclear relauncher recognized that it was necessary to take seriously the industrial difficulties that EDF is facing in order to ensure fast and efficient maintenance of its plants.
The leader has repeatedly deplored the lack of skills not only in EDF but also – and above all – in its subcontractors, in the technical professions of welder, boiler maker or even pipe maker. And above all the political procrastination around nuclear energy during the decade of 2010. “After Fukushima, many spoke of a nuclear winter. We have only recently gained visibility (on the future of the sector) “he repented while accepting the turn taken definitely by the President of the Republic.
The need for a nuclear “Marshall Plan”
“Belfort’s speech (given by Emmanuel Macron) in February 2022 clearly defined the framework for medium and long-term nuclear development. We are able to continue strengthening the sector, with the university of nuclear professions, the Excel plan at the end of 2019. We have started a welding school in Cotentin “, recognized Jean-Bernard Lévy, tireless defender of nuclear power. This summer the executive has provided for the total renationalisation of EDF to have a free hand in the management of the nuclear program.
While welcoming the nuclear relaunch project unveiled by Emmanuel Macron in February, after criticizing the Elysée turnaround that has long called for a fall of the nuclear regime, Jean-Bernard Lévy is now urging the government and powers to go beyond the simple “Debates”. That is to concretely launch the six second generation EPRs promised by the President of the Republic at the end of his first term.
«We need the texts, the authorizations to start the construction sites. We need a “Marshall Plan” to revive the construction of EPR. The term seems to me justified to have the means “ at the height of the ambition of the Elysée, asked the CEO of EDF in his final speech to the parliamentarians. One way to encourage them to pass laws that facilitate the construction of new reactors throughout the territory.
Yesterday Tuesday, before this same Committee on Economic Affairs of the Assembly, Minister of Industry Agnès Pannier-Runacher specifically mentioned a bill “Early 2023 probably (…) which one will introduce provisions to save procedural time on the start-up of construction sites “ nuclear.