October 1, 2019 / 6:43 PM / 13 days ago

EDF boss pledges action on nuclear delays and cost overruns

* CEO Levy acknowledges criticism from government

* Finance Minister said EDF cannot be a “state within the state”

* Levy says EDF’s problems are hurting its credibility

By Geert De Clercq

PARIS, Oct 1 (Reuters) - EDF will take concrete action to remedy a string of technical problems, delays and cost overruns at its nuclear plants, its CEO said on Tuesday after coming under heavy criticism from the French finance minister over the weekend.

In unusually tart comments, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire had said that the government could no longer accept how 84% state-owned EDF’s costs keep “drifting, month after month, year after year”.

Le Maire also said he could not accept that France’s nuclear industry is a “state within the state”.

Critics have long said that too many government and elected officials have close ties with the nuclear industry, potentially deterring them from questioning its costs and safety record.

“I take note of the government’s words ... the nuclear industry is going through hard times, there is an accumulation of problems with industrial quality ... budgets and deadlines are not respected,” EDF Chief Executive Jean-Bernard Levy said in a speech at a utilities conference in Nice.

Only a few years after EDF and reactor builder Areva needed a taxpayer-funded rescue costing more than 10 billion euros ($10.9 billion), EDF and Areva - now integrated into EDF and renamed Framatome - have had to announce major new problems, delays and cost overruns at the Flamanville and Hinkley Point projects.

“The shortcomings in our industrial management are hurting the credibility of our nuclear know-how, both for clients and for people who might consider working for us,” Levy said.

He said an audit of the French nuclear industry by Jean-Martin Folz, former chief executive of carmaker PSA Peugeot Citroen, would be sent to the government by the end of October.

Levy said that once EDF has found a solution for the welding problems, the company will then update budgets and deadlines for its long-delayed Flamanville project.

“Beyond Flamanville, I will have to announce concrete decisions for the entire industry because we have to collectively draw lessons from this situation,” Levy said. ($1 = 0.9146 euros)

Reporting by Geert De Clercq Editing by David Goodman

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