EDF’s EPR reactor in England sees new delays and soaring costs

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Construction of two new-generation nuclear reactors (EPR) at Hinkley Point, UK, will face a further one-year delay at an additional cost of at least £3bn, French energy group EDF announced on Thursday.

“The start of power generation for Unit 1 is now set for June 2027. Assuming no additional impact from the new epidemic and the war in Ukraine, the risk of delaying the delivery of both units is estimated at 15 months,” the group said in a statement .

Originally planned for production at the end of 2025, it was pushed back to June 2026 last year. The plant is located in Somerset (South West England).

The EDF now estimates the cost of the project in 2015 was “between £2.5 billion and £26 billion”, compared with £18 billion in 2016 when the UK government gave the green light and started construction.

April 7, 2022 in the training room at the Hinkley Point C Nuclear Power Plant Control Centre, Bridgewater (POOL/AFP/Archives – Finnbarr Webster)

The delay was blamed on the two-year pandemic: “People, resources and supply chains have been stretched and their effectiveness has been limited. In addition, the volume of research and civil works, and the cost of these works, especially marine, are increased,” the organization explained.

The next milestone will be the installation of the dome on the plant’s Unit 1 in the second quarter of 2023, compared to the previous end of 2022.

The project was initially subject to controversy and controversy by French unions, and its cost has been revalued at between £2.2 and £23bn.

It has not escaped the setbacks suffered by other EPRs.

– Chinese partner –

The EPR (European Pressurized Reactor) is a more powerful and safer model of nuclear reactor than previous generations. Three have been completed in Finland and China, three are under construction, one in France and two at Hinkley Point.

EPR around the world (AFP - Vincent Le Fay)
EPRs around the world (AFP – Vincent LEFAI)

But the Finnish reactor (Okiluoto-3) started 12 years late in March, and one of the two Chinese EPRs commissioned in 2018 and 2019 has been shut down since July 2021 due to technical problems.

As for the French reactor at Flamanville, the cumulative delay in fuel loading currently planned for the second quarter of 2023 reaches 11 years, and the cost has risen to 12.7 billion euros, according to EDF estimates as of January 12, 2022. In 2006, an investment of EUR 3.3 billion was announced for this very powerful 1,650 MW reactor.

EDF has been accumulating bad news since the beginning of the year. The group, which had to recapitalize in April, will see a sharp drop in profits this year, in large part because the French government has asked it to sell more power at low prices – a document the chief executive has publicly opposed.

In addition to delays at the French and UK EPRs, the team also had to address pipeline corrosion problems that forced it to halt 12 of its 56 French reactors. Overall, more than half of France’s reactors are now closed for maintenance.

Hinkley Point C is the only nuclear power station under construction in the UK. EDF is the project owner, while its Chinese partner CGN owns a third of the project. It is adjacent to the Hinkley Point B nuclear power station, which was commissioned in 1976 and which EDF plans to close by July 2022.

Both sides of the strait aim to keep nuclear’s share of the energy mix at 20% in order to be carbon neutral by 2050 – and the UK currently has 15 reactors at eight sites. London wants to produce 95% of its low-carbon electricity by 2030.

In France, EPR technology remains at the heart of the energy strategy. President Emmanuel Macron has announced his intention to restart a nuclear programme with six new-generation EPR2 reactors, particularly praising the climate advantages of the resulting electricity.

This long-term project will not be completed within the five-year period. The first commissioning is not expected to take place before 2035 or 2037. But the financial risk is immediate and considerable, with an estimated cost of more than 50 billion euros for the six reactors.



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