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France must boost nuclear industry to keep reactor fleet safe – watchdog

France needs to boost its nuclear industry with more skilled workers and investment to keep its fleet of nuclear plants safe, the head of the country’s nuclear watchdog, ASN, said on Thursday.

“The results of the inspections carried out by the ASN in 2022 show that the technical capabilities of the nuclear supply chain remain a point of vigilance,” the body’s president, Bernard Doroszczuk, said.

Last year was marked by major outages at nuclear fleet operator EDF (EDF.PA) due to stress corrosion at some plants and a summer drought which led to production cuts as cooling water became scarce, something that showed “significant efforts” were still needed to keep the sector safe, Doroszczuk said.

ASN said that water temperature limits for reactor cooling need to be closely watched as last year’s extreme weather conditions, which led to an exceptional lifting of the limits, could become more frequent in the future.

EDF has requested thermal limits – which determine how much reactor-cooling water can be returned to the river during a heat wave – be lifted permanently, saying a study they conducted showed last year’s higher temperatures had no impact on biodiversity. Some environmental groups oppose the measures, however.

“Changing the limits means additional stress for the environment. If some sites can’t respect the existing regulations due to climate change then these reactors have to be shut down,” a Greenpeace spokesperson said.

Banking heavily on nuclear energy as a cheap and low-carbon source of electricity, France’s government is planning a new energy and climate law by autumn to lay the groundwork for the construction of at least six additional reactors. The bill will also include new multi-year energy planning.

Doroszczuk said plans should include anticipated checks at existing plants to make sure they will still be safe in the 15 to 20 years to come and “to avoid the risk of deadlock in the nuclear system as a whole”.

Source: Reuters