French nuclear safety tests cause power prices to rise

Power prices have risen after the nuclear regulator ASN ordered EDF to carry out safety tests on five of its reactors in France within the next three months.

On the French market the price of baseload contracts for the first quarter of 2017 jumped by 8 per cent over the course of Tuesday, increasing by €4.95/MWh to close the day at €68.20/MWh.

“Immediately after the news broke, it actually gained more than €3/MWh in less than 20 minutes,” said ICIS power editor Jamie Stewart. “To put that in perspective, if the same product gained €3/MWh in a whole week, we’d call that a strong gain.” Contracts for November and December also increased in price by 11 per cent and 10 per cent respectively to around €70/MWh.

As Britain often imports power from France via a 2GW interconnector, this fed through to the UK market. The price of baseload contracts for the first quarter of 2017 actually dropped slightly, although it remained €3.00/MWh above the French price. “There was no need for the market to push that price up any higher,” said Stewart.

However, the price of contracts for November and December both increased by around £1.50/MWh to around £67/MWh. The price of peak contracts for November – those delivered between 7am and 7pm on working days – shot up by £6/MWh to more than £104/MWh.  

By the end of Tuesday peak contracts for February were changing hands for £111/MWh. For comparison, the price of peak contracts delivered in February last year averaged just £48/MWh.

The spike in prices came after ASN instructed EDF to speed up a programme of testing on a number its reactors in France. In April last year the French nuclear vendor Areva informed ASN that it had uncovered a “manufacturing anomaly” in the vessel for the European Pressurized Reactor (EPR) it was assembling for EDF at the Flamanville 3 plant in Normandy.

ASN subsequently ordered EDF to carry out tests on the reactor. They found that some of the channel heads for the reactor’s steam generators also suffered from the same defect; namely a high concentration of carbon in parts of the steel forging. Carbon is added to iron to strengthen it and create steel. Add too much carbon and the alloy becomes weaker.

The steam generators were manufactured by the Japanese Casting and Forging Corporation (JCFC) and the Creusot Forge, which is owned by Areva. They are also fitted to 18 of the reactors in EDF’s existing French fleet. Of those 12 are equipped with channel heads manufactured by JCFC, which ASN said may contain “a particularly high carbon concentration”.

On June 23 ASN instructed EDF to begin carrying out safety tests on those 12 reactors. Testing is underway or has been completed at seven of the reactors. Up until now EDF has been conducting the tests during scheduled outages.

However, on Tuesday ASN ordered EDF to inspect the other five reactors over the next three months “without waiting for scheduled refuelling outages”. “The performance of these inspections will require the shutdown of the reactors concerned,” it said.

EDF has yet to respond to a request for comment. 

Last month also saw a spike in power prices after EDF announced it was extending outages for refuelling at some of its reactors to accommodate the testing programme. 

Author: Tom Grimwood,
Channel: Markets & Trading
Tags: EDF Energy

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