The earthquake that shook the Rhone valley in south-east France last week could have been another financial disaster for energy giant EDF in what has been a bruising year. Its share price has taken a battering over concerns that it will struggle to pay for the upkeep of its ageing fleet of reactors, find money to build new ones and service its €37bn of net debt. The worries have been amplified by further delays and cost overruns at the mammoth nuclear plant it is building on the Normandy coast. A damning report commissioned by the government into what has gone wrong in Normandy, with France’s first European Pressurised Reactor, a bigger, safer and more efficient type of plant. The EPR at Flamanville was supposed to have cost €3.3bn and taken four and a half years to build. Instead, the price has ballooned fourfold and construction will last 15 years. The report, by Jean-Martin Folz, a former boss of Peugeot, identified a litany of failures, starting with EDF’s initial gross underestimation of costs and construction challenges, multiple delays, faults and technical problems, poor project management, chronic tensions among contractors and partners and a lack of technical skills. Many of the flaws in construction have come from substandard welding contractors. The French government, which owns 83.7 per cent of the company, is giving mixed messages about the way forward. It will not decide whether to build more EPRs until Flamanville is up and running — conveniently after the 2022 presidential election, allowing Emmanuel Macron to avoid the wrath of France’s increasingly powerful environmental movement. But according to Le Monde newspaper, the government has also secretly ordered EDF to draw up a feasibility study for six new EPRs built in pairs. If the more basic challenge of building vaguely on time or on budget cannot be met, nuclear energy soon loses its appeal.
FT 20th Nov 2019 read more »