The EPR, promises but difficulties

The EPR, a 3rd generation nuclear reactor, offers many advantages. Nevertheless, its construction is facing difficulties.
EPR_EnergyNews

The EPR nuclear reactor, which London has just approved for construction at its Sizewell plant, is a third-generation reactor designed to offer increased power and safety that has also been built, with varying degrees of difficulty, in China, Finland and France.

The EPR is a flagship project for the French electricity company EDF, which plans to deliver some to the gigantic Indian project of Jaitapur, but must also respond to the probable revival of a nuclear program in France.

Today, two plants are in operation, in China and Finland. In Finland, the nuclear safety authority authorized the start-up of the Olkiluoto 3 EPR nuclear reactor at the end of December, after a 12-year delay in construction, the first for a reactor of this type.

Until then, the Taishan power plant, near Hong Kong, was the only site in operation, but its number 1 reactor has been shut down since July 2021 after a “technical” incident, described as “routine” by Beijing.

Very high power

Launched in 1992, this technology was co-developed by the French company Areva and the German company Siemens within their joint subsidiary, from which Siemens has since withdrawn. EDF finally took control of the activity during the reorganization of the French nuclear industry orchestrated by the State.

Designed to operate for 60 years, the European Pressurized Water Reactor is based on pressurized water reactor technology, the most widely used in the world. It offers a very high power (1,650 megawatts) and benefits from a multiplication of backup systems to cool the reactor core in case of failure, a protective shell made of concrete and steel, and a corium recuperator supposed to reduce the consequences in case of a serious accident.

Delays in France and Finland

The first project was launched in Olkiluoto (Finland) in 2005, on behalf of the electricity company TVO, with Areva and Siemens as prime contractors. It was supposed to be completed in 2009, but setbacks and budgetary slippages accumulated and it started almost 12 years late. However, its regular production has been postponed to December 2022, after the observation of “foreign bodies” in the steam heater of the turbine.

The only French EPR under construction since 2007 is in Flamanville (Manche) and has also accumulated setbacks, due to anomalies in the steel of the cover and bottom of the tank and problems with the welds. With eleven years of delay and a cost multiplied by almost four, the group is now aiming at loading the fuel in the second quarter of 2023 and the tank cover will have to be changed before the end of 2024.

In operation in China; additional costs in England

Concerning the two Chinese EPRs, Taishan 1 was the first in the world to enter into service, in December 2018, although the construction site began in 2009, after that of Flamanville. The first one has been shut down for more than a year, the second one is in operation.

The EPR has been selected for a two-reactor project at Hinkley Point in England. The first UK reactor is now scheduled to start producing electricity in mid-2027 instead of late 2025 as originally announced, with increased costs.

As for the Sizewell C project, led by EDF, it was plagued by delays, due to funding difficulties and British political complications, until the government gave the green light on Wednesday.

However, EDF is confident that it will be able to sell the EPR abroad again, counting on the desire of countries to improve their climate balance and, in particular, to reduce their dependence on coal. It is counting on the sale of six EPRs for the future Jaitapur power plant, and is in discussions with European countries such as Poland and the Czech Republic. In France itself, the most nuclearized country in the world (per capita), the government supports the order of six or even 14 reactors, for a commissioning expected at best in 2035-2037.

Meanwhile, EDF is working on a new version of the EPR, the “EPR2″, which is supposed to be “simpler to build”, benefiting from a series effect (construction in pairs), prefabrication in the factory, and “totally designed in a digitalized way”, according to EDF.

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