(Bloomberg) -- Electricite de France SA is reviving studies to boost the longer-term output of some nuclear reactors as part of a plan to extend the life of its atomic fleet to at least 60 years.
Europe’s energy crisis and rising power prices have put such considerations back “on the company’s agenda for 2023,” according to Sylvie Richard, who’s in charge of the state-controlled utility’s €33 billion ($35.6 billion) spending on reactor maintenance and retrofit for the period from 2022 through 2028.
The upgrades could boost the output of some EDF reactors by 4% to 5%. If that proves financially viable and gets approved by the nuclear safety authority, some of the work would take place beyond 2028, Richard told reporters at the Saint-Laurent nuclear power station in central France Thursday.
The French nuclear giant has been tasked by President Emmanuel Macron to extend the lifetime of its 56 reactors and to build at least six new ones to help the country reduce its reliance on fossil fuels. However, EDF has been grappling for more than a year with extended reactor repairs and outages that have worsened Europe’s energy crunch, while triggering a record loss at the company.
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EDF’s nuclear output plunged to the lowest since 1988 last year as the repairs of cracked pipes at more than a dozen units compounded refueling halts and planned maintenance. EDF’s fleet of reactors is 37-years old on average, meaning that five or six get halted each year for lengthy lifetime extension works.
In Saint-Laurent, the 900-megawatt unit 2 is halted for more than seven months of works to obtain approval to operate beyond 40 years. The company is spending €250 million euros to replace old components, check equipment and add safety systems to prevent or mitigate potential accidents, Nicolas Andre, head of the plant, said Thursday.
To boost reactor availability, EDF is also planning to modify the nuclear fuel used in its 32 900-megawatt reactors, which could then run for 16 months instead of 12 without a refueling halt, Richard said. That could take place when those reactors start reaching 50 years of age from 2029, provided the regulator gives its approval, she said.
From that year, EDF’s spending on maintenance and upgrades should remain close to the current annual rate of €4.7 billion, as the company steps up its efforts to increase the resilience of its units against global warming, Richard said. That’s assuming lawmakers approve government plans to keep reactors online as long as deemed safe by the nuclear safety authority, she said.
“While we’re not starting from scratch, we know we’ll have to get a step further to adapt our units to climate change,” Richard said.
Read more: France Urged to Study Impact of Global Warming on Nuclear Plants
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