* Areva confident about foundry's summer restart
* Wants foundry to make largest nuclear components
* Upgrade of Creusot foundry will take further year
(Adds Fontana comments on Creusot upgrade, Hinkley Point)
By Geert De Clercq
PARIS, March 30 Areva's nuclear
foundry, under investigation for forging documents, should be
able to restart by this summer and will be upgraded to make the
largest nuclear components, a top company executive said on
Commercial production at the French state-owned nuclear
group's Creusot Forge foundry was halted late last year
following the discovery of manufacturing flaws and the
falsification of tracking documentation.
French nuclear regulator ASN has ordered Areva to make a
long list of improvements before it will consider allowing the
plant to restart, and a top ASN executive has told Reuters that
Creusot Forge's equipment is poorly suited to making the huge
components for today's nuclear industry.
Bernard Fontana, director of Areva's reactor unit Areva NP,
told reporters on Thursday the company would not only ensure the
foundry's procedures and quality were raised to the highest
standards, but it would also invest so the plant can make the
biggest nuclear components, such as reactor containment vessels.
"We accept with humility that we need to improve our
procedures ... we are confident that we will be the world
benchmark (in nuclear foundries)," Fontana said.
"We are aiming to be ready by summer," he added.
Fontana said Areva NP was investing 8 million euros ($8.6
million) in Le Creusot to be able to produce the largest nuclear
components, which were previously subcontracted to other
foundries such as Japan Steel Works.
"We want to be able to manufacture the entire range of
components, including the very largest," he said, adding this
upgrade would take an extra year.
Fontana said Areva would in the coming days answer a Jan. 31
letter from ASN that ordered it to specify how it would address
shortcomings at the foundry.
"We have put forward an improvement plan for Le Creusot with
a number of milestones in terms of technology, organisation and
culture ... these integrate the comments we have received from
the ASN and other regulators," he said.
He also said the use of corrector fluid at the plant - which
was raised by British regulator ONR - had been limited to staff
Fontana added the rate of accidents involving production
halts was now just a quarter of what it was 12 months ago.
Asked whether Creusot Forge would manufacture containment
vessels for the two Areva-designed EPR reactors that utility EDF
plans to build in Hinkley Point, Britain, Fontana said Areva had
the supply contract, but could do it in-house or subcontract it.
"Today, back-up schemes are in place. We will be able to do
it, but in the end the customer will decide," he said.
Areva is in the process of selling Areva NP - which designs,
makes and services nuclear reactors - to EDF as part of
a government-led restructuring and recapitalisation after its
equity was wiped out by years of losses. The deal is set to be
finalised in the second half of this year.
($1 = 0.9315 euros)
(Reporting by Geert De Clercq; Editing by Adrian Croft and Mark