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EDF pinning its hopes for EPR nuclear reactor on the Taishan reactor, China

The French stress test for nuclear power, Ft.com 18 May 18

Years late and billions over budget the first European Pressurised Reactor is set to become operational. Its success is critical for France   Andrew Ward in London and David Keohane in Paris MAY 17, 2018   “…..  fuel loading at Taishan — one of the last steps before it starts producing electricity — carries wider significance beyond China.  Taishan, operated by China General Nuclear Power Corp, the state-owned energy company, is on course to become, within months, the first plant in the world to operate a European Pressurised Reactor — the Franco-German technology plagued by delays and cost overruns since it was designed in the 1990s. “The Taishan 1 fuel loading is a very important milestone,” says Xavier Ursat, head of new nuclear projects for EDF, the French state-backed utility which owns 30 per cent of the project. “It will bring a new image to the EPR.”

Few technologies are in greater need of a makeover. When work started on the first EPR as a joint venture of Areva of France and Siemens of Germany at Olkiluoto, Finland, 13 years ago, it was supposed to herald a new era of growth for atomic power. Instead, as construction timetables slipped and German support melted away, the EPR has become a symbol of the nuclear industry’s struggle to remain competitive. EDF, the main surviving corporate champion behind the EPR, is hoping that completion of Taishan will mark a turning point in efforts to convince sceptical investors, policymakers and potential buyers that the reactor can still be a success. At stake is the future of the wider French nuclear sector, which is relying on the EPR for long-term growth, at a time when the country’s dependence on atomic power is being questioned by President Emmanuel Macron ’s administration.
 Taishan is the furthest advanced of four EPR projects around the world and, at a mere five years late, the least delayed. Olkiluoto is due to come into service next year, a decade late and nearly three times over budget at €8.5bn. It is a similar story at EDF’s flagship Flamanville plant in France, which is seven years late and €7bn over budget. A further project involving two EPRs at Hinkley Point, south-west England, is not due for completion until the end of 2025, eight years after EDF once predicted it would be finished. These setbacks have plunged France’s nuclear industry into financial turmoil. Areva, battered by its losses at Olkiluoto, was last year folded into EDF in a state-brokered deal that amounted to a bailout of the sector. A €4bn capital raising by EDF last year improved its balance sheet but the company still had €33bn of net debt at the end of 2017, only a little less than its current market capitalisation.
No country has more invested in nuclear power than France, which generates 70 per cent of its electricity from the splitting of atoms. The EPR was designed to renew the country’s nuclear fleet as many of its existing 58 reactors approach the end of their operational lives, while also generating valuable export orders. But construction delays have been seized on by those — including some inside the Macron government — who want a decisive shift in French energy policy away from nuclear and towards renewable power. A policy “road map” is due by the end of the year setting out how fast France should pursue a government target to cut nuclear’s share of domestic electricity production to 50 per cent. Similar debates are under way in many countries where nuclear power is generated, as critics argue that its high costs, safety risks and radioactive waste can no longer be justified when the costs of wind and solar power are falling rapidly. ……….
 While the EPR was designed to be almost bomb and meltdown-proof, construction flaws have painted a less robust picture. France’s nuclear regulator, the Autorité de Sûreté Nucléaire, ruled last year that anomalies in the steel used at Flamanville meant the reactor’s lid, or vessel head, would need replacing — at significant expense — after just six years of operation. Separate defects have since emerged in the welding of steel pipes at the French plant. EDF is due to reveal within weeks whether it can still meet its latest timetable to be fully operational by November 2019. While the start-up of Taishan will be a welcome fillip, Flamanville remains the bigger test for EDF because of its 100 per cent ownership and because approval from the ASN — seen as a gold standard in nuclear regulation — bestows credibility on the technology internationally. ………
Setbacks at Flamanville have cast a shadow over the early stages of construction at Hinkley Point, where two EPRs are being built with an aim to meet 7 per cent of UK electricity demand. EDF insists that experience accumulated at Flamanville and Taishan will make Hinkley a smoother process. Avoiding delays in the UK will be crucial if EDF is to persuade international buyers — and its own shareholders, not least the French government — that the EPR’s teething problems are over. ………https://www.ft.com/content/7c68a702-57cb-11e8-bdb7-f6677d2e1ce8
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May 19, 2018 - Posted by | China, France, technology

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