French Nuclear Power Plant Maintenance Issues Continue to Impact Uranium Spot Prices

Spot uranium prices have oscillated in a tight range around US$50 per pound for the last five months. Two issues seem to be pressuring prices, counteracting Japan’s interest in a gradual reopening of some of its nuclear plants and the UK’s recent decision to build a new nuclear facility to create “secure, affordable and clean energy.” Of course, the “secure” portion of this reason traces to Russia’s dramatic curtailing of natural gas supply to Europe.

The first factor negatively impacting uranium prices – and which is simultaneously undermining at least some confidence in nuclear power – is the early March 2023 discovery of major corrosion-related cracks on a cooling pipe in EDF’s Penly 1 reactor in Normandy by French nuclear inspectors. The suspect pipe would be used to cool the reactor only in the event of an emergency. 

EDF, which is 84%-owned by the government of France, is one of the largest nuclear power producers in the world. Nuclear power normally supplies about 70% of France’s electricity fuel mix, but in 2022 France had to import power from Germany because of problems with its nuclear fleet.

Source: Trading Economics.

Penly 1 was one of 16 reactors taken offline last year because of cracks found in cooling systems. The new crack – six inches long and, most concerning, up to an inch deep – covered about 25% of the circumference of the pipe.

New fissures were also found this year in EDF’s Penly 2 and Cattenom 3 reactors. Like Penly 1, those two reactors were among the group of 16 units taken out of service in 2022. EDF attributed the Penly 2 and Cattenom 3 cracks to thermal fatigue (cracking due to temperature changes).

In response, France’s Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) has ordered EDF to inspect approximately 200 pipe welds across its entire 56-unit nuclear fleet. As of mid-February, 43 of these 56 reactors were operating, up from 30 in early November 2022. The real issue of all this for the nuclear industry is whether similar problems could be found in reactors in other countries.

The second negative issue affecting perceptions of the nuclear power is Germany’s decision to close its last three operating nuclear plants on April 15, 2023, ending six decades of nuclear power generation in Europe’s largest economy. Germany’s de-nuclearization plans were set in motion twenty years ago.

Source: CNN.com

The three just-shuttered plants comprised about 6% of Germany’s electricity production. Germany plans to fill the gap partly with renewable energy, but also with the dirtiest form of power generation, coal-fired power. Remarkably, coal-fired power represents around 30% of the country’s fuel mix. This giant reliance on coal makes Germany’s insistence on ending all zero carbon-emitting nuclear power generation even more head-scratching.


Information for this briefing was found via CNN, Trading Economics and the sources mentioned. The author has no securities or affiliations related to this organization. Not a recommendation to buy or sell. Always do additional research and consult a professional before purchasing a security. The author holds no licenses.

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