NPCIL has entered into framework agreement to purchase six identical reactors for Jaitapur park

French Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) president Andre-Claude Lacoste said on Wednesday that he “could not rule out” a moratorium on the third generation EPR nuclear reactor under construction at Flamanville in Normandy, northern France.

“If the question of a moratorium is raised, and we have raised it, then it will be on the construction of Flamanville 3,” he said. The reactor has cost over € 5 billion to build and has run into delays and cost over-runs. Mr. Lacoste said the reactor, whose engineering works were led by the French electricity giant EDF, was “very compromised.”

This should be of interest to the Indian government since the Nuclear Power Corporation of India has entered into a framework agreement to purchase six identical reactors for the nuclear park in Jaitapur, Maharashtra, at a minimum estimated cost of €15 billion.

Hypotheses

The ASN chief's remarks were echoed by Thomas Houdre, who heads the agency's operations in Caen, Normandy, where several reactors are located. “This is a questioning, a reflexion. We are not sure, but this is one of the hypotheses we are keeping in mind,” Mr. Houdre said on Thursday. The ASN has put in place several new security rules and regulations on the Flamanville EPR nuclear site which is scheduled to reopen shortly following a partial closure in the wake of a fatal accident in January 2011.

As far as France's second EPR (1,650 MWe) reactor to be built at Penly is concerned, Mr. Houdre cast doubts on whether the project would ever get off the ground.

Last week Areva's CEO Anne Lauvergeon appeared confident of her product saying: “Had there been EPRs in Fukushima [Japan], radioactive leaks would not have been possible, whatever the situation.”

However, Areva appears to have developed cold feet following the ASN's declarations.

For, despite attempts to brush aside the ASN statements as “nothing extraordinary,” the company's shares were suspended from trading on the stock markets before bourses opened on Thursday.

The Nuclear Safety Authority also warned the EDF that it needed to “seriously” improve the maintenance of the 58 reactors it runs in France. Mr. Lacoste said an audit of the safety of all reactors on French soil was under way and a report would be available by year-end. Presenting his Regulator's Report to Parliament, the ASN chief said the EDF needed to “better anticipate a certain number of maintenance operations and the replacement of components.”

For months now trade union members from several French nuclear plants have been pointing to compromised safety because of cost cutting and the increased outsourcing of maintenance work.

Leaked documents from the EDF revealed that engineers working on the EPR feared “the possibility” of a “Chernobyl style” meltdown because both the materials and workmanship were substandard.

The Financial Times daily reported on Thursday that last year the EDF discovered “anomalies” affecting dozens of its reactors, including corrosion on parts of the steam generators within its older reactors. “The EDF replaced the parts and asked permission to continue operating some reactors, despite a deterioration in conditions. This request had been refused,” the regulator said.

The safety authority put its weight behind persistent union warnings over the scale of outsourcing of maintenance by the EDF in recent years.

The report said monitoring of subcontractors needed to be “rapidly improved” and reinforced,” the report in the daily said.

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