AREVA – nuclear corporation’s financial collapse

As Areva Goes Belly Up, Modi’s French Nuclear Plans May Start Unravelling, DiaNuke.org, 24 July 15“………..The signs of Areva’s irreparable decline if not imminent death have been on the horizon these past years. With its single product catalogue, Areva has struggled to complete two identical EPR reactors, the first at Olkiluoto for TVO in Finland (still not operational despite a nine-year delay and a trebling of costs) and the second in Flamanville, France, plagued by equally serious construction and security flaws, delays and outrageous cost over-runs. …….

Reactor woes continue

The estimated price of the reactor continues to go up and up – it has nearly trebled from 3.3 billion euros eight years ago to around 9 billion euros at current estimates and could go higher if the EPR’s technical problems persist. The company has run up a deficit estimated at 4.8 billion euros for a turnover of 8.3 billion. Its recapitalisation requirements stand at 7 billion euros. The French government has stepped in to impose draconian solutions on the company that will see its design, construction and operations arm hacked off and handed over to its arch enemy, EDF. When the negotiations with EDF are completed – the haggling over price is currently underway – Areva, a company that has built and operated some 64 nuclear reactors will be reduced to a dwarf.

The French nuclear security watchdog, ASN, has issued a number of severe warnings to Areva on major security issues and manufacturing and construction flaws in the reactor being built in Flamanville, France, one of four EPRs under construction in the world. One of the latest warnings concerns the weakness of the reinforced steel core at the heart of the reactor where nuclear fission takes place. French papers have described fissures in the reactor’s innermost core as measuring as much as 42 centimetres. If the ASN’s suspicions about the poor quality of the forging done by Areva are proved right (the final test results will be available in October), the reactor dome will have to be removed. This can only mean one thing: the total abandonment of the EPR in France. A decision is not expected until 2016.

Several reports published in France on the woes of the EPR describe it as a product of “French technological hubris”. It is a gigantic reactor that looks good on paper. But as the adage goes, the proof of the pudding lies in the eating and India did not wait long enough to see the reactor’s performance before rushing in to buy an untried product.

“The EPR reactor whose problems are at the heart of the current crisis is an expensive failure,” writes energy analyst Nick Butler. “It has to be written off and replaced by a new generation of smaller, less complex reactors that can be built on time and on budget. The EPR was designed at a time when it was believed that energy costs would rise inexorably. That is no longer the case.”…………There is also the question of Areva’s massive debt.

Uncertain future

The Finnish nuclear operator TVO is suing Areva for billions of dollars for the delays, cost over-runs (estimated at 7 billion euros instead of the 3.3 billion originally projected) and technical flaws related to the EPR in Olkiluoto. The failure of the Finnish EPR has contributed vastly to Areva’s troubles.

Once hailed as the harbinger of a nuclear renaissance, the EPR is fast becoming one of the world’s most criticised and by far the most expensive nuclear white elephants. In France work began in 2007 and the reactor was to have gone on stream in 2012. This date has now been pushed forward to 2017 at three times the initial cost.

Leaving aside the problems linked to cost, safety and technological know-how, it is at this stage totally unclear if EDF would like to pursue the EPR programme at all. Last year the European Commission gave the go ahead for building another EPR reactor at Hinkley Point in Britain. But British authorities, which were to have signed in March 2015, now appear reluctant to go ahead. The Financial Times reported that the project might be completely abandoned. In the US, plans to build the EPR have currently been suspended. as World Nuclear News reported in March, Areva “has asked the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to suspend work on the design certification of the US EPR until further notice, prompting Unistar Nuclear Energy to request the suspension of the review of its construction and operation licence (COL) application for Calvert Cliffs 3.” http://www.dianuke.org/why-is-india-bent-on-joining-the-sinking-french-nuclear-ship/

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