Yesterday EDF announced a further delay to the schedule for its troubled flagship European Pressurised Water Reactor (“EPR”) at Flamanville: fuelling is now expected to start at the end of Q2 next year, delayed from late 2022. The project costs are also forecast to increase from €12.4 billion to €12.7 billion – a far cry from the original estimate of €3.3 billion.

Among the reasons for the new delay is the need to repair various non-compliant welds, which will be fixed by the end of August rather than by the end of April, as previously expected, and a requirement from the French nuclear regulator, ASN, to provide assurances in relation to the problems at Taishan 1, which EDF says are not indicative of a design flaw despite claims to the contrary made by a whistle-blower.

“Taishan shows there are a few corrections, a few adaptations, to be made,
but in no way does it question the EPR (as a whole)”,
– Xavier Ursat, head of new nuclear projects at EDF

In the meantime there is better news at Olkiluoto which reached criticality in late December and is currently in the commissioning phase – its output can be viewed here. The plant’s power level will be gradually increased with commissioning tests carried out at every stage. Electricity production will start when a 30% power level is reached, which is expected at the end of January, and regular electricity production is expected to start in June, 20 years after the project was first approved by the Finnish parliament. Once fully operational, the plant is expected to produce around 14% of Finland’s electricity.

Despite this, I am still of the view that the EPR is a difficult and un-proven technology, and would urge the Government to consider alternatives to the EPR at Sizewell C for its next large-scale nuclear project. My preference is for an Advanced Boiling Water Reactor (“ABWR”), as originally proposed for Wylfa Newydd, a proven technology which has been delivered on time and on budget in Japan, and with much lower construction costs and timescales than the EPRs.

Although Hitachi withdrew from the Wylfa project and the site is now being considered for the Westinghouse AP 1000, the AP 1000, another pressurised water reactor, is facing similar challenges in the US to the EPRs in Europe. The Government would do better to approach other ABWR providers to gauge their interest, and be willing to pay a higher price to ensure the security of supply which is needed in the energy transition. It seems unlikely that a pressurised water reactor whether an EPR or AP 1000 could be delivered before 2035, the date at which the UK has committed to a net zero electricity system. That commitment is subject to security of supply, which is unlikely to be achieved in the absence of significant new nuclear capacity.

The Government needs to avoid past mistakes, diversify its technology risk, and opt for a more reliable alternative.

EPR problems timeline

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