EDF and nuclear contractor, AREVA have been true to their word and acted with incredible efficiency to test the allegedly faulty pressure vessels in their Flamanville RPV nuclear site, the sister facility to the Hinkley Point site under construction in Somerset.
Initial safety inspections suggested that the carbon levels in the steel of the pressure vessel a vital part of the reactor were too high. The fear being that contaminated steel may lack integrity and lead to containment failure as the vessel embrittles. Embrittlement is an expected and planned for by product of neutron exposure giving the pressure vessel a projected life expectancy. Any weakness in the steel does not just undermine that life expectancy but makes it a total unknown, posing a serious risk.
AREVA, the state owned energy contractor, says that additional studies have, so far, confirmed the quality of the forged components for the Flamanville 3 EPR. Testing at the Creusot Forge, where the pressure vessels were cast, is still on going for quality and process.
Concept of the Flamanville 3 Nuclear Power Plant
The news comes after AREVA informed the French nuclear regulator that tests conducted in late 2014 on a reactor pressure vessel similar to that of the Flamanville EPR had revealed an area with high carbon concentration. At the time AREVA and plant owner EDF pledged to perform additional tests as soon as possible to demonstrate the safety and quality of the corresponding equipment.
So far the analyses have examined questions related to the fabrication of forgings for the Flamanville pressure vessel and similar analyses previously conducted on other forging. French authorities brought in a new order on nuclear pressure equipment (ESPN) in 2005 which the Flamanville 3 vessel must comply with.
As part of the investigation going on at the Creusot Forge a mechanical testing laboratory is under scrutiny for inaccurately using inspection tools designed for hot tensile testing measurements between 2009 and 2014. Should the investigation prove materials had been wrongly measured repeats of certain tests could be required for a variety of components.
‘These assessments have confirmed thus far the intrinsic quality of the forgings and the safety of components,’ a spokesperson for AREVA said.
It also confirmed that none of the components subject to the faulty testing procedure are installed in an operating reactor.
On the basis of the information available EDF are reportedly satisfied for work to continue at the Flamanville EPR site. Work at Hinkley Point remains stalled until resolution of government funding via the European commission.
In an effort to further prove the quality of the pressure vessels and to reassure international customers (primarily the US and China), AREVA has appointed French-British company Lloyd's Register Apave Limited to carry out an external review of areas related to forging and inspections.
Scheduled for the 4th May the review is expected to take at least 8 weeks. AREVA are keen to ‘to identify the causes of potential defects in practices and in quality inspections,’ in part to rally their share price that has been in a state of decline since the potential risk was announced. Which rather suggests no good deed goes unpunished.
AREVA acquired Creusot Forge in 2006 to tackle the specialist manufacturing and machining of large scale forgings and castings. It is one of the only forges in the world capable of producing components for nuclear reactors.
We have enjoyed a long standing relationship with EDF and we’re pleased to see production restarting at Flamanville. We hope, before too long, Hinkley Point will follow suit. If you’re an energy professional looking for your next opportunity, register you CV with us today.