October 24, 2017 / 6:30 PM / 10 months ago

UPDATE 1-French regulator delays decision on EDF reactors' life extension-source

* Reactor life extensions beyond 40 years key for EDF

* Regulator ASN had promised in-principle ruling by 2018

* Ruling now delayed until at least second half of 2020 (Adds IRSN comments on timing)

By Geert De Clercq

PARIS, Oct 24 (Reuters) - French regulator ASN’s general ruling on whether state-owned utility EDF can extend the life span of its nuclear reactors beyond 40 years will be delayed until at least mid-2020, a source at ASN’s technical arm IRSN told Reuters.

The ASN had said before that a broad “generic” review of the principle of life extensions beyond 40 years would be delivered, before any decision on individual reactors was due by 2018.

The IRSN official said that the absence of a ruling about the general principle of life extensions would not prevent the ASN from ruling on the Tricastin 1 reactor - EDF’s oldest -which is due for its 40-year review from 2019.

“The absence of a general ruling will not block a possible individual go-ahead,” he said.

Reactor life extension is crucial for EDF. The first of the company’s 34 reactors with 900 megawatt capacity will reach the 40-year threshold in the next three to four years. At that point, each individual reactor is given a thorough review, the ASN then rules whether it can continue to operate.

EDF has repeatedly said it wants to extend the lifespan of its reactors to 50 and possibly 60 years, as has been done for similar reactors in the United States.

Early in 2016, EDF’s board - without waiting for ASN’s ruling - already decided to extend the depreciation period of its 900 MW series (excluding Fessenheim) from 40 to 50 years. The resulting lower depreciation charges have boosted EDF’s net profit from the first half of 2016 onwards.

The IRSN official declined to comment on when the ASN would give a general ruling on reactor life extension. But he said the IRSN would not deliver its technical report on the principle of life extension before first-half 2020, confirming a report in French energy daily Enerpresse.

It typically takes several months for the ASN to review the IRSN’s reports and issue a ruling.

The ASN and EDF declined to comment.

EDF operates 58 nuclear reactors. At the end of 2016, 29 of its 34 900 MW reactors were more than 30 years old, according to EDF’s 2016 registration document.

ASN documents show that following Tricastin 1 - which went into operation Dec. 1980 - Fessenheim 1, Tricastin 2 and Bugey 2 and 4 will be up for their 40-year review in 2020-21.

France aims to reduce the share of nuclear in France’s electricity production from 75 to 50 percent by 2025.

Environment and energy minister Nicolas Hulot has said EDF may have to close up to 17 reactors to reach that target. But the government has also said it would wait for the ASN’s ruling on life extensions before taking a decision on the issue. (Reporting by Geert De Clercq; Editing by Bate Felix, Luke Baker and Jane Merriman)

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