The EPR nuclear reactor finished? as Finland cancels Olkiluoto 4

Finland cancels – is the EPR finished?, The Ecologist,  Dr Jim Green & Oliver Tickell 15 May 15 

This week Finland cancelled its option for a second European Pressurised Reactor as the existing EPR project sinks into a abyss of cost over-runs, delays and litigation, writes Jim Green. It now looks like the EPR is a failed technology and its owner, French nuclear giant Areva, is fast running out of both money and orders as its ‘hot prospects’ evaporate.

There’s been plenty of bad news recently for the European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) nuclear power station design.

And now there’s more. The Finnish electricity company TVO announced this week that it had cancelled plans to build a second EPR at Olkiluoto in western Finland because of delays and problems with the first EPR on the site currently being built by Areva and Siemens.

That plant, Olkiluoto 3, is running severely over time and budget. Construction began in 2005 and it is not expected to commence operating until 2018, nine years late.

The estimated cost has risen from €3.2 billion (US$3.6b) to €8.5 billion (US$9.5b). Areva has already made provision for a €2.7 billion (US$3.0b) writedown on the project, with further losses expected. FTVO and Areva / Siemens are locked ina €10 billion legal battleover the cost overruns.

Finland’s government had given TVO a deadline of 30th June to request a building permit for its planned Olkiluoto 4 plant. TVO said it would not pursue the project due to “the delay of the start-up of Olkiluoto 3 plant unit.”

It added: “In this situation it is impossible to make significant Olkiluoto 4 related decisions necessary for the construction license application.”

How did it come to this?

The French EPR (aka Evolutionary Power Reactor) was the first Generation III design to win orders, first in 2003 when the order for Olkiluoto 3 was the first for a nuclear reactor in Western Europe in 15 years.

This was followed by the 2006 order for an EPR at Flamanville in France, and two EPRs at Taishan in China in 2007. Soon /Areva was confidently projecting a sales pipeline of 25 or more reactors.

Since then, EPRs have faced one problem after another. All three EPR construction projects have suffered cost blowouts or delays or both.

The estimated cost of the Flamanville EPR in France has increased from €3.3 billion (US$3.7b) to at least €9 billion (US$10.1b). The first concrete was poured in 2007 and commercial operation was expected in 2012, but that timeframe has been pushed back to 2017 (with further delays likely).

The British Daily Mail newspaper characterised the Flamanville EPR project as one “beset by financial mismanagement with rocketing costs, the deaths of workers, an appalling inability to meet construction deadlines, industrial chaos, and huge environmental concerns”, and noted that “it continues to be plagued by delays, soaring costs, and litigation in both the criminal and civil courts.”

The two EPRs under construction in China are 13-15 months behind schedule.

And while the UK government has been keen to press ahead with a twin EPR reactor 3.2GW power plant at Hinkley Point in Somerset supported by the most generous nuclear subsidy package ever assembled, no order has yet been signed – even though Areva subsidiary Creusot Forge has already forged its pressure vessels.

A global collapse in confidence

Since the Fukushima disaster, a number of countries that might have considered EPRspulled back from earlier interest in new reactors – the Netherlands, Sweden, and Switzerland, among others. In 2012, new-build tender processes in Finland and the Czech Republic rejected the EPR.

In the US, a total of seven EPRs were planned at six sites. Four EPR construction licence applications were submitted to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) but all four applications have been abandoned or suspended. In February 2015, Areva asked the NRC to suspend work on EPR design certification until further notice.

EPRs were considered at various sites in Canada – including Alberta and Darlington, Ontario – but those plans were shelved and a generic licensing process by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission was terminated.

In 2009, Italian utility Enel and EDF planned to build four EPRs but that plan was scrapped after Italy’s June 2011 referendum which rejected nuclear power. In 2012, Enelpulled out of the Flamanville EPR project.

The United Arab Emirates chose South Korean reactor technology over EPRs. Reflecting on that decision, former EDF head Francois Roussely concluded that while the EPR is “one of the best” third-generation designs, the complexity of the design is a “handicap”.

Likewise, Cambridge University nuclear engineer Tony Roulstone said in an October 2014 lecture that the EPR design is very safe but extraordinarily difficult to build – he described it as unconstructable.

According to the US’s Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), EPRs have four sets of active safety systems, each capable of cooling the reactor on its own, and other safety features including a double-walled containment and a ‘core catcher’ for holding melted reactor core materials after a severe accident.

But the safety of some EPR design choices has been questioned by the French government’s Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety, and the EPR licensing process in the UK has been criticised.

erious faults with pressure vessel metallurgy

On 7th April 2015, the French Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) announced that fabrication defects had been found in the reactor pressure vessel of the Flamanville EPR, forged by Areva’s Creusot Forge subsidiary. Tests revealed areas with high carbon concentration resulting in “lower than expected mechanical toughness values”.

Pierre-Franck Chevet, head of ASN, said“It is a serious fault, even a very serious fault, because it involves a crucial part of the nuclear reactor.”

The results of further tests are expected by October 2015……..



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