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French nuclear scandal

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Pete Roche

EDF, Areva and the French nuclear regulator ASN have known since at least 2005 that Areva's Creusot Forge factory was not capable of producing nuclear safety compliant components. Yet the factory has been allowed to continue manufacturing components which have now been found to contain anomalies, including the bottom and lid for the reactor pressure vessel (RPV) for the EPR at Flamanville.1

France Inter, the French Radio Station which broke the news commented that: "Never before has the French nuclear industry suffered such a scandal. And this case challenges the entire chain of control of a sector already shaken by the Fukushima disaster."2

The Creusot Forge is under investigation by ASN after it was discovered to have produced potentially defective parts and substandard safety reports for reactors around the world. But the letters from 2005 and 2006 ‒ obtained by France Inter – show that EDF and Areva were told by the ASN about "numerous incidents" at the facility, including "discrepancies during inspections". This will raise serious concerns about EDF and Areva's new nuclear project at Hinkley Point.3

In December 2005, ASN sent a letter to EDF alerting it to the deplorable condition of the Le Creusot plant, which was experiencing major malfunctions. Yet the lid and bottom for the RPV for the Flamanville EPR were manufactured by the Creusot Forge, in Burgundy, between September 2006 and December 2007. In August 2006 ASN asked Areva to demonstrate that the steel for these two parts was homogeneous. For seven years, letters were exchanged between ASN and Areva, but no analysis was carried out. On 24 January 2014 the RPV arrived at Flamanville, and was placed in the reactor building. Nine months later Areva finally did some tests and discovered that the bottom and the lid had abnormalities.

"The steel should normally contain 0.2% carbon," explains Yves Marignac, of WISE Paris, but the concentration was 0.3%, enough to modify the mechanical properties of the steel and, in particular, to influence the temperature at which it becomes less supple and more brittle.4

The regulator ‒ ASN ‒ has been seriously at fault, according to the Observatoir du Nucleaire, since it has said nothing for many years about the criminal practices at Le Creusot. It says ASN is no less guilty than Areva and EDF because, although it was fully aware of the serious problems, it authorized EDF to install the pressure vessel in the EPR at Flamanville in December 2013. It is clear, says the Observatoir du Nucleaire website, that ASN is not able to withstand pressure from EDF and politicians who accuse them of seriously harming the industry if they enforce safety regulations.5

Following the discovery of manufacturing irregularities and the falsification of documents at Areva's Creusot Forge foundry last year, French nuclear regulator ASN and several other international regulators inspected the site in early December. ASN said Le Creusot is not up to the job and did not have the right equipment to produce the parts for the nuclear reactors. "Creusot Forge is at the limit of its technical capacity," ASN said. "The tools at its disposal are not adequate to manufacture such huge components. In such a situation, errors are made."6

EDF's oversight of Areva, which will supply the Hinkley Point C reactors, was questioned in an internal document by the UK Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR). In an ONR report about the visit dated 16th December 2016, disclosed under a Freedom of Information request, ONR said the nuclear safety culture at Creusot fell short of expectations and warned about the implications for Hinkley Point C. ONR said it has since decided to implement a series of additional inspections of EDF and its supply chain to ensure all components are manufactured to the required standard.

The ONR report said after an inspection in late 2016, that an international team from France, Canada, the United States, China, Finland and Britain had concluded that the nuclear safety culture at Le Creusot Forge foundry fell short of what regulators expect from a major supplier of nuclear equipment. It added that improvement measures ordered by ASN were not yet effective and said despite the prohibition of the use of correction fluid on documents at the foundry, the inspectors found evidence of its continued use.7

EDF Energy Chief Executive Vincent de Rivaz says there will be "no impact" on Hinkley Point C from issues at Le Creusot. He said the RPV would be made "at the right place and right time", declining to give further details.8 A spokesman for EDF said: "Steel forgings for Hinkley Point C will be manufactured to the most stringent nuclear standards which are reviewed and assessed by ONR. EDF Energy also has its own inspection and quality assurance programme to provide the required confidence that the components manufactured by Areva for Hinkley Point C meet those exacting standards."9

Reprinted from nuClear news No.94, April 2017,


1. Energydesk, 31 March 2017,
2. France Inter, 31 March 2017,
3. Energydesk, 31 March 2017,
4. France Info, 31 March 2017,
5. Nuclear Observer, 31 March 2017,
6. Reuters, 16 March 2017,
7. Reuters, 24 March 2017, and
Guardian, 24 March 2017,
8. Reuters, 29 March 2017,
9. Guardian, 24 March 2017,