French Government Audit Report on EDF Energy finds it lacking a “Culture of Quality”

In October 2019, France24 published details of a report on EDF commissioned by the French Government, its largest shareholder, and written by Jean-Martin Folz former head of PSA Peugeot Citroen Energy. The overall finding was that EDF lacked a culture of quality, the consequence of which was engineering failings, delays and cost overruns at Flamanville (France), cost overruns at Hinkley Point (UK) and delays at the Olkiluoto plant (Finland).

French Government ministers reacted strongly to the report, saying that:

  • it underscored an unacceptable lack of rigour at EDF
  • EDF must quickly put in place an action plan to bring its nuclear project to the highest levels
  • decisions on building more French nuclear reactors could not be taken before EDF has demonstrated the effective running of the EPR.

Melton Parish Council was (and still is) gravely concerned that while the French Government does not trust its own energy company to build any new nuclear reactors in France, EDF is pressing ahead with new builds in the UK, particularly at nearby Sizewell C, Suffolk.

The Parish Council wanted the answers to two key questions:

  1. Who would independently scrutinise EDF’s quality improvement plan and give assurance to the people of Suffolk and the UK that it contains the right corrective actions and is implemented effectively?
  2. What had been the effect of EDF Energy’s quality deficiencies on its plans for Sizewell C?

Question 1 – EDF’s Quality Improvement Plan

On 14 November 2019 the Parish Council wrote to the UK’s Office of Nuclear Regulation (ONR) asking if they intend to take a proactive role in scrutinising EDF’s action plan and overseeing its delivery [Appendix B].

On the 24 November the Office of Nuclear Regulation (ONR) replied saying that they do not intend to have any such role [Appendix B1].  The Parish Council’s view is that such a detached approach is not appropriate given the scale and risk of what EDF is planning to build in the UK.

Even more worrying, the ONR said that France’s nuclear regulator might not have any interest either.

The ONR did go on to say that they would apply the UK regulatory framework rigorously and expect that the UK licencees (EDF) learn any lessons from previous EPR projects.

The Parish Council’s view was that if EDF’s improvement plan were to be self-regulated, any “lessons learned” would be based on EDF’s judgement alone, devoid of independent scrutiny – a process that would not represent good governance.

The Parish Council, therefore, remained concerned at the prospect that EDF Energy: a company with acknowledged and serious quality deficiencies; a company of strategic importance to both the UK and France; a company building nuclear reactors which, if designed or built badly, pose a catastrophic national risk; would not have any independent scrutiny of its plans to eliminate engineering failings and achieve an acceptable culture of quality.

On 23 January 2020, the Parish Council wrote to the Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy seeking assurance that there would be independent validation that the failings at EDF were genuinely being rectified and asked her to consider how this might be done [Appendix B2].

The Secretary of State’s reply was dated 27 March 2020 [Appendix B3].

Melton Parish Council’s response was dated 8 April 2020 [Appendix B4].

The Secretary of State’s reply dated 5 May 2020 [Appendix B5].

The Secretary of State’s 5 May letter reveals:  “the ONR has confirmed that suitable measures are already in place to detect potential quality failings at plants being built in the UK, taking account of what the ONR has learned from the Folz report and from the ONR’s conversations with the French nuclear safety regulator”.   This is either a major clarification of, or a significant change in approach to, the position at 27 November 2019 when the ONR stated:  “ONR has no comment in regards to this report.  As this is a matter for EDF SA and the French regulator, should they have any interest, ONR will not have any role in scrutiny of any associated action plan or its delivery.”

In conclusion, while the Parish Council welcomes the updated statement on the ONR’s response to the Folz report, we remain concerned that EDF’s quality improvement plan has not received independent scrutiny and validation.

Question 2 – The effect of EDF Energy’s quality deficiencies on its plans for Sizewell C

Given the potential implications of the French audit report for Sizewell C, the questions that the Parish Council’s wanted to ask were:

  • Will the French audit report and action plan be made available to the statutory and non-statutory consultees for Sizewell C?
  • To date, how has the Sizewell C project been affected by the adverse findings in the report?
  • Looking forward, how will the Sizewell C project be affected by the proposed changes in the action plan?

On 14 November 2019, the Parish Council wrote to Mr Simone Rossi, Chief Executive Officer of EDF in the UK with these questions [Appendix C].  As no reply was received by mid-January, the Parish Council sent a reminder to Mr Rossi on 22 January 2020 [Appendix C1].

[Mr Rossi’s reply will be posted here, when received]