It was too good to be true. The normal start-up of the Olkiluoto 3 EPR nuclear reactor in Finland, already postponed from the end of July to September due to generator repairs, has now been postponed to December, TVO, the operator of this plant built by Areva, announced on Wednesday. . -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 finding required “inspections and repair work” until the end of July. We are thus heading towards a 13-year delay. As a reminder, these setbacks and financial lapses at the Finnish shipyard, synonymous with billions of euros in losses, led to the complete reorganization of Areva, whose main activities gave rise to Orano and Framatome (a subsidiary of EDF).
Only Areva SA remains, a structure whose essential objective is to complete Olkiluoto-3.
With an installed capacity of 1,650 megawatts (MW), this EPR is destined to become one of the most powerful reactors in Europe. Once commissioned, it will supply Finland with no less than 14% of its electricity, complementing the nuclear output of the country’s other two plants already in service, at Olkiluoto and Loviisa, on the country’s west coast. These facilities already produce around 30% of the national electricity.
For the Olkiluoto-3 site, which started in 2004, you have to be patient. Because in Finland as elsewhere, EPR construction is marked by numerous schedule changes and financial mismatches. The only one under construction in France, in Flamanville (Manche), will enter service in 2023, eleven years late and with a budget multiplied by almost four (from 3,300 to 12,700 million euros without counting construction costs). As for the Hinkley Point EPR, 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 is paralyzed since July due to a technical incident.
Tensions between TVO, Areva and Stuk
Of Franco-German origin, these reactors acquired in Europe after the Chernobyl disaster were to become, however, the spearhead of the atomic sector, and revitalize a sector in decline. In fact, these offer more 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 in the top and 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 the payment of compensation of 450 million euros. Covid-19, in turn, caused further delays at the Finnish site.
The return of the civil atom
However, if the EPR problems 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. A sign of a more favorable situation, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) raised its projections this year for the first time since Fukushima, now forecasting a doubling of installed nuclear power by 2050 in the most favorable scenario.
For its part, Brussels has granted the “green label” to the civil atom, to allow its operators to benefit from financing conditions as favorable as those granted to develop renewable energies, although the conditions are numerous. A situation that EDF intends to surf.
Finally, in France, Emmanuel Macron recently announced his intention to build no less than 14 EPRs on national soil, eight of which are optional in 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 impulse for a long time.