Nuclear: after 12 years of delay, the Finnish EPR schedule for Olkiluoto 3 slips again

Nuclear: after 12 years of delay, the Finnish EPR schedule for Olkiluoto 3 slips again

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It was too good to be true. Already postponed from the end of July to September due to repairs to the generator, the normal commissioning of the EPR nuclear reactor at Olkiluoto 3 in Finland has now been postponed to December, announced on Wednesday TVO, the operator of this plant built by the Areva-Siemens consortium.

This new postponement was decided after the observation in May of “foreign bodies” in the steam heater of the turbine, TVO said, specifying that this discovery required “inspections and repair work” until the end of July. We are therefore heading towards the 13 years of delay. As a reminder, these setbacks and financial slippages of the Finnish shipyard, synonymous with billions of euros in losses, caused the complete reorganization of Areva, whose main activities gave birth to Orano and Framatome (a subsidiary of EDF).

Only Areva SA remains, a structure whose essential goal is to complete Olkiluoto-3.

With an installed power of 1,650 megawatts (MW), this EPR is set to become one of the most powerful reactors in Europe. Once commissioned, it will then supply Finland with no less than 14% of its electricity, supplementing the nuclear production of the country’s two other plants already in service, at Olkiluoto and Loviisa, on the country’s west coast. These installations already produce about 30% of the national electricity.

For the Olkiluoto-3 site, which began in 2004, you have to be patient. Because in Finland as elsewhere, the construction of EPRs is marked by numerous schedule shifts and financial slippages. The only one under construction in France, in Flamanville (Manche), is due to enter service in 2023, eleven years late and a budget multiplied by almost four (from 3.3 to 12.7 billion euros excluding construction costs). funding). As for the EPR at Hinkley Point, in the south of England, the start of electricity production has just been postponed to 2027. Finally, in Taishan (China), one of the only EPRs commissioned worldwide service has been shut down since July due to a technical incident.

Tensions between TVO, Areva and Stuk

Of Franco-German origin, these reactors purchased in Europe after the Chernobyl disaster were nevertheless to become the spearhead of the atomic sector, and revitalize a sector in decline. In fact, these offer greater power and better security than the second-generation installations, which make up the current fleet. But between welding defects, anomalies in the composition of the steel of the cover and the bottom of the tank and problems with suppliers, the image of the EPR has gradually been tarnished.

In the case of Olkiluoto, these disappointments even led to long and intense tensions between TVO, Areva and the Finnish nuclear authority, Stuk. TVO had signed an agreement in March 2019 to end the litigation, providing for compensation of 450 million euros to be paid to it. The Covid-19 had in turn caused further delays on the Finnish site.

A comeback of the civilian atom

Nevertheless, if the problems of the EPR and then the Fukushima disaster in Japan in 2011, have dampened hopes of a “renaissance”, nuclear energy, which emits little CO2, sees its prospects improve again. Sign of a more favorable situation, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) this year raised its projections for the first time since Fukushima, now forecasting a doubling of nuclear power installed by 2050 in the scenario the most favorable.

For its part, Brussels has granted the civil atom the “green label”, to allow its operators to benefit from financing conditions as favorable as those granted to develop renewable energies, even if the conditions are numerous. A situation on which EDF intends to surf.

Nuclear: despite the repeated problems, EDF pushes the fires into the atom

Finally, in France, Emmanuel Macron recently announced his intention to build no less than 14 EPRs on national soil, eight of which are optional over the longer term, in order to ensure the renewal of the electricity mix by 2050. Something to give visibility to the sector, which has been waiting for this new impetus for a long time.