* Creusot Forge machinery inadequate for making huge parts
* Areva stopped commercial production at factory last year
* Areva wants to restart plant this summer
* Nuclear watchdog must give permission for restart
* Critics say oversight of French nuclear industry needs
By Geert De Clercq
PARIS, March 16 Creusot Forge, a supplier of
nuclear plants around the world owned by France's Areva
, is under investigation for making substandard parts
and falsifying documents.
Now, France's nuclear regulator says machinery at the plant,
which was shut for commercial production last year, is not up to
In an interview, Remy Catteau, the head of nuclear equipment
at the ASN (Nuclear Safety Authority), said that an inspection
of the plant late last year showed that it did not have the
right equipment to produce the parts for the nuclear reactors.
"Creusot Forge is at the limit of its technical capacity. The
tools at its disposal are not adequate to manufacture such huge
components. In such a situation, errors are made," Catteau told
Reuters by telephone.
"The inspection brought to light the fact that the safety
culture in the plant is not sufficient to produce nuclear
The disclosure adds to the problems of Areva, once the
world's biggest nuclear company, which owns Creusot Forge.
Areva shut the factory after it found that manufacturing
documents at the plant may have been falsified over some 40
years and parts made by the foundry did not meet specifications.
Authorities around the world have checked the nuclear
reactors using the parts. Two reactors in France - Fessenheim 2
and Gravelines 5 - were shut after the checks due to safety
The investigation by the regulator is ongoing but Areva
hopes to restart production at the factory this summer, if ASN
Creusot Forge is one of the world's few foundries able to
make the huge steel components that form the heart of nuclear
reactors and is a key part in the French nuclear industry's
Areva clients, which include France's EDF and
utilities across the world, could take their business elsewhere
if the plant stays shut. Areva could also subcontract its
foundry work to other nuclear specialists such as Japan Steel
Works and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.
Catteau did not say whether ASN believed the machinery
needed to be replaced before Creusot Forge could reopen.
A spokesman for Areva declined to comment on the foundry's
equipment. He said the plant still has a future as Areva would
invest 8 million euros ($8.5 million) to guarantee the quality
of components. He said Areva aimed to restart commercial
activities at Creusot Forge by the summer.
ASN wrote to Areva in January with a list of questions about
quality and safety at the plant but did not focus on the
equipment. ASN has said Areva must answer them by the end of
March. It is not clear what criteria ASN will use for deciding
if the plant can be reopened or how the response to the
questions is linked to the potential reopening.
The plant makes steam generators and other components for
current-generation nuclear plants but was also tasked with
making large parts for a new generation of European Pressurized
Reactors (EPR). Britain has approved EDF's project to build two
EPRs in Hinkley Point and Creusot Forge is expected to make some
of its parts.
Precision is critical when making parts such as
containment vessels, which are huge steel cylinders that house
the reactor core and control rods.
Creusot Forge made the vessel lid and bottom for the
Flamanville 3 EPR reactor under construction in western France.
But at the end of 2014, Areva discovered excessive carbon
concentrations in those components, which weaken the steel.
"For Flamanville 3, the equipment was at its limit, there
was no margin for error," Catteau said.
Flamanville's future is now uncertain. The ASN will rule by
the summer whether the new reactor can go into operation by
2018, despite those weak spots. A red light would lead to years
of further delays for Areva and its customer EDF.
Regulators from the U.S., Britain, China and other countries
are also looking into quality and manufacturing issues at the
Creusot Forge foundry in eastern France after Areva unearthed
the false manufacturing documentation from the 1965-2013 period.
"One of the ways to resolve problems was to hide things, and
that was the wrong way," Catteau said.
The letter sent to Areva in late January demanded answers to
questions over quality control, staffing levels, management
oversight and training and compliance with International Atomic
Energy Agency (IAEA) standards.
Catteau noted that Areva had a plan to overhaul its
"But there is still a lot to do before Creusot Forge will be
at the right level," he said.
The ASN has long warned that the financial difficulties of
France's nuclear industry pose a safety risk, and Catteau said
this could also partly explain Creusot's quality breakdowns.
Areva is being restructured and recapitalized with help from
the French state after years of losses wiped out its equity. It
lost 665 million euros ($702 million) last year, 2.04 billion
euros in 2015 and 4.83 billion euros in 2014.
Critics of France's nuclear energy establishment say the
problems at Creusot Forge prove that oversight of the whole
industry, including the ASN, needs an overhaul.
World Nuclear Industry Status Report author Mycle Schneider
said France's parliament should task independent experts with an
inquiry, but he does not see the political will for that.
"The entire chain of responsibility has failed, from Areva
to its client EDF and the ASN. I don't see an initiative yet
that addresses the entire scope of the problem," Schneider said.
($1 = 0.9426 euros)
(Editing by Anna Willard)