In recent weeks there has been heavy media reporting about the crisis in the French nuclear industry that has come in the form of the corporate giants Électricité de France and Areva teetering on the brink of collapse. Some English language media have covered this story, while inside France both the alternative and mainstream press (Mediapart, Reporterre, Le Monde) have been featuring the story prominently. Beneath the virtual reality of this financial crisis, there is the underlying reality of the legacy of nuclear reactors and nuclear waste that can no longer be seen as a problem to be solved by market forces and private corporations. The nuclear legacy ultimately becomes a lasting public liability when the corporations disappear (or as it will be euphemistically reported, they “restructure” or “get rescued.”) Since the French nuclear industry is involved in nuclear projects in Britain, India, China and Finland, the troubles with le nucléaire are having global repercussions. The following article by Johathon Porritt gives a concise account of how bad things are going for EdF in early 2016, and what this all means for Britain’s energy policy.

EdF: Living with its ZOMBIE REACTORS!

by Jonathon Porritt

Republished with permission from: http://www.jonathonporritt.com/

EPR-a-Flamanville_large

The Areva EPR construction site in Flamanville, France.

You seriously wouldn’t want to be a Director of EdF at the moment. The agenda for an average Board Meeting must be seriously gloomy on each and every occasion. Here’s how I imagine the key agenda items for their last meeting in February – helpfully summarised by EdF’s Company Secretary.
Item 1: Existing construction projects
1.1 Olkiluoto (Finland)
Continuing, horrendous cost overruns, leading to ongoing legal stand-off with Finnish partners. Already delayed by seven years, but (hopefully!) could be finished by 2018.
1.2 Flamanville (France)
Continuing, horrendous cost overruns. Already delayed by nine years, but (hopefully!) could be finished by 2018.
1.3 Taishan (China)
Serious problems with both reactors under construction, but, this being China, everything’s shrouded in secrecy. WARNING: This could be much worse than we currently understand.
1.4 Pressure vessels
Still waiting for final safety assessment from French regulators. WARNING: There could be really serious problems here, despite our best efforts to ‘work with’ the regulator.
1.5 Deadlines/UK Treasury
These deadlines are now CRITICAL – as in EXISTENTIAL.
UK Treasury’s loan guarantees are linked to Flamanville operating successfully. And if it is not working properly by 2020, loan guarantee will be completely withdrawn.
Item 2: New reactors at Hinkley Point, Somerset
2.1 Final investment decision
Postponed again – for the eighth time. Still unable to raise the €23.3bn (£18bn), despite our Chinese backers agreeing last year to provide one-third of the total sum, and despite the UK Government offering all but limitless subsidies. (CAUTIONARY NOTE: The true cost is of course much closer to €31 (£24.5bn) taking into account both the cost of construction and the costs of finance. This has been recognised by the EU Commission.)
Have just released new announcement: construction will now not start until 2019. We should know by then whether the EPR will ever produce any electricity, with Olkiluoto and Flamanville both due to come on stream in 2018.
2.2 Media strategy
Must keep up a good front: have blamed the latest delay on the Chinese New Year. Crucial that CEO maintains the line: ‘We estimate the investment decision is very close.’
‘Stop Hinkley Point’ protesters occupied our offices in Bridgewater yesterday. Need to handle with care. Negative coverage increasing all the time, and people have started to talk about our ‘ZOMBIE REACTORS’ at Hinkley Point. Regrettably, our cohort of ‘green ambassadors’ (led by renowned UK environmentalist George Monbiot) has fallen silent. Very few advocates now for.
Even the Financial Times has now joined the ranks of the critics: ‘POLITICALLY PAINFUL IT MAY BE, BUT THE CASE FOR HALTING HINKLEY POINT C IS BECOMING HARD TO REFUTE.’
Item 3: Extending the life of our UK reactors
3.1 Some good-ish news: we’ve negotiated extensions for four of our eight reactors in the UK: Heysham 1 and Hartlepool, through to 2024, and Heysham 2 and Torness through to 2030. There will be a significant financial outlay here, which has not yet been properly accounted for, but still relatively ‘small beer’ (as the English say) when looking at our overall finances.
3.2 The longer we keep these reactors ticking over, more or less safely, the better it will be. As soon as they come offstream, all the liabilities associated with decommissioning kick in. Reminder to the Board: MANAGING OUR RISING LIABILITIES IS NOW OUR MOST CRITICAL PRIORITY!
Item 4: Extending the life of our French reactors
Current operating fleet: 58 reactors. The Board has already signed off on a major life extension programme, with an estimate of €55bn of costs. Recent external assessments have put total costs at €100bn. Crucial to hold the line in the media at €55bn. In reality, we have no idea what the total outlay will be.
Item 5: Energy Transition Law (France)
5.1 This now represents A MAJOR RISK, with a direct mandate from our principal shareholder (the French Government) that the country must reduce its dependence on nuclear generation from 75% to 50% of total electricity demand by 2025.
5.2 The Cour des Comptes (state Audit Office) has just issued a new report challenging our long-held expectation that demand for electricity in France will continue to grow significantly through to 2025. If they are right, the energy transition law will mean:
Worst-case scenario: 20 reactors (35% of the fleet) will need to close.
Best-case scenario: 17 reactors (29% of the fleet) will need to close.
5.3 Lobbying relevant Ministers and Prime Minister to amend the Energy Transition Law now a TOP PRIORITY.
Item 6: Financial position
Current share price: down 50% on January 2015 position.
Current market cap: €22.5 (symbolically and very uncomfortably, less than the total projected costs of the Hinkley Point project).
Current credit rating still at risk.
Growing concern about perceived splits on the Board, especially as regards increasingly forceful hostility from our Trade Union representatives to Hinkley Point.
…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………
See what I mean? Not exactly a cheery occasion, even with the best of French lunches, and it must be a bit like that Board meeting after Board meeting.
So now shift the focus to London, to the Department of Energy and Climate Change. Imagine for a moment the Permanent Secretary, metaphorically shitting himself as the single biggest element in the UK’s future electricity supply slides, slowly but ever more inexorably, down the pan. Wouldn’t he just love to get access to the (real) Minutes of EdF’s Board meetings!
The implications of all this for the UK couldn’t possibly be more severe. Initially, Hinkley Point was meant to be on stream by 2025, generating a whacking great 7% of total electricity supply. Earlier delays meant that this had already slipped to 2030. Now that the start date has slipped again, to 2019, AT THE EARLIEST, that 2030 date looks insanely optimistic.
And that’s just the start. EdF’s meltdown at Hinkley Point is already having a significant knock-on impact on other would-be nuclear prospects in the UK – with Horizon, NuGen and even China General Nuclear Corporation beginning to get cold feet. If Hinkley Point does go down the pan, a project that has been given every conceivable financial inducement by both the UK and the French Government, who the hell is going to invest in different but equally dodgy reactor designs?
If the Permanent Secretary isn’t shitting himself about such a state of affairs, one has to ask where he’s getting his metaphorical Imodium from.