Updated: Prices spike as French power market braces for new discoveries

Joachim Moxon


Fears of poor nuclear availability in France spilled over to beyond the front electricity quarter on Wednesday, as the market reacted to statements made during a parliamentary hearing on the previous day, as well as bullish coal prices.

All curve contracts traded more than €1.00/MWh higher than during the previous session, including the Cal ’18 and ’19 Baseload contracts.

The Cal ’17 Baseload contract traded at one point at €45.20/MWh, up by €2.00/MWh compared to the previous assessment, making it one of the highest session-on-session gains this year. It was last assessed a little lower at €45.15/MWh.

“Nothing really new was said, but people are a bit confused and nobody wants to be taken by surprise,” one trader said.

An audit of manufacturer Areva has already revealed 87 irregularities in the safety records of the 400 documents that have been scrutinised so far. The probe will be extended to 9000 manufacturing records dating as far back as 1943, it was announced earlier this month. This is likely to reveal further irregularities, head of nuclear authority ASN, Pierre-Franck Chevet, said during the hearing on Tuesday.

“It was also a bit worrying to hear the representative of Areva giving the impression that the discoveries have been due to a change in regulation,” the trader said. “The irregularities haven’t been so bad so far, but we don’t really know the truth and there is an impression that bigger problems could come out,” he said.

Of the 87 irregularities identified in the first phase of the audit, ASN concluded that most have no safety implications, but were evidence of “unacceptable practices”.

Exceptions were found in the case of two steam generators, installed in the 880MW nuclear reactors Bugey 4 and Fessenheim 2. It was also the case for a third steam generator, which had yet to be installed in the 910MW reactor Gravelines 5.

A number of outages have also been extended due to an ongoing safety review, which is investigating the composition of the steel of steam generators in 18 reactors. The review was prompted by the discovery of high carbon content in the steel at the 1.65GW reactor under construction at Flamanville.

Of the 18 reactors, six have been granted approval to restart, eight are still offline, while four are scheduled to be examined in December.

Three of the outages involved in the probe, impacting a combined capacity of 3.3GW, were recently extended by two-three weeks to the end of November, increasing fears that the current maintenance schedule will not be met.

Two reactors will also be offline this winter due to unrelated issues. In total, the return of 16 nuclear reactors are still subject to uncertainty, impacting 16GW of capacity, or 25% of the French nuclear fleet.

French nuclear availability is currently at an historic low, averaging at around 60% of total capacity for the last four months, compared to approximately 80% during the same period last year. joachim.moxon@icis.com


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