France - Plutonium Investigationn°19


   On Christmas night, 1999, the second reactor of the Civaux nuclear power plant, in the Vienne department, not far from Poitiers, southwest of Paris, was connected to EDF’s national electricity grid. It was the last reactor remaining under construction in western Europe, 43 years after the first was put on line in the United Kingdom. Henceforth the order books are empty.

   Civaux-2 brings the total number of nuclear power plants operating in France to 58 pressurized water reactors, of which 34 of 900 MW capacity, 20 of 1,300 MW, and 4 of 1,450 MW, plus the fast neutron reactor Phénix. Thus the nominal installed nuclear capacity is 61,700 MWe net. In 1999, nuclear reactors produced 374.7 TWh (billions of kWh), or 75.3% of the national production of 497.6 TWh. The company exported 68.1 TWh (the equivalent of the production of 11 reactors of 900 MWe, or 13.7% of the national production), but that did not prevent it importing 4.5 TWh at the same time. In fact, EDF has seen its net exports decline regularly for five years while progressively increasing it imports.

   The surplus capacity of the French nuclear park was illustrated again in 1999 with EDF’s load factor of 72%, compared with 80% in Japan, 82% in Germany, and even 84% in the United States. The four N4 reactors, which account for almost 10% of the total installed capacity but have produced very little so far, are not even included in this load factor. Among the four reactors (Chooz-B1 and B2, ordered in 1984, Civaux-1 and -2 respectively ordered in 1991 and 1993), only the first one has fulfilled the conditions (like a minimum of continued operation) for "commercial operation" status (mise en service industrielle, MSI), in May 2000. Their average load factor was less than 40% in 1999, according to the Élecnuc database of CEA. However, the two last units have been used by EDF to bring two nice Christmas gifts to the General Coundil of the Vienne Department: in the whole 1997 year, Civaux-1 has been connected to the national grid for only a few hours, on the 24th of December, and the same happened with Civaux-2 in 1999. In each case, that was enough for EDF to pay the professional tax exactly as if the reactor had been fully operational all the year long. In each case, it was months before the reactor would be connected again.

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