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New delay and skyrocketing cost for EDF’s EPR reactors in England

The French energy group EDF announced on Thursday that the construction site for two new generation nuclear reactors (EPR) at Hinkley Point in England would face a further delay of a year and additional costs of at least 3 billion pounds. .

“The start of electricity production for unit 1 is now scheduled for June 2027. The risk of postponing the delivery of the two units is assessed at 15 months, assuming the absence of a new pandemic and additional effect of the war in Ukraine,” the group said in a statement.

Initially, the start-up was scheduled for the end of 2025, and it had already been postponed, last year, to June 2026. The plant is located in Somerset (south-west of England).

EDF now estimates the cost of the project “between 25 and 26 billion pounds sterling” in 2015, against 18 billion in 2016, when the British government gave the green light and the start of construction.

In the training room at the control center of the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station, in Bridgwater on April 7, 2022 (POOL/AFP/Archives – Finnbarr Webster)

The delay is blamed on the two-year pandemic: “people, resources and the supply chain have been stretched and their effectiveness has been limited. In addition, the volume of studies and civil engineering works, and the cost of these works and in particular of the maritime works, have increased”, explains the group.

The next milestone will be the installation of the dome on unit 1 of the plant, in the second quarter of 2023, compared to the end of 2022 previously.

The project, originally controversial and contested by French unions for its cost, had already been revalued at between 22 and 23 billion pounds.

It did not escape the setbacks suffered by other EPRs.

– Chinese partner –

The EPR (European Pressurized Reactor) is a model of nuclear reactor that is more powerful and designed to be safer than previous generations. Three are complete, in Finland and China, and three are under construction, one in France and two at Hinkley Point.

New delay and skyrocketing cost for EDF’s EPR reactors in England
EPRs around the world (AFP – Vincent LEFAI)

But the Finnish reactor (Olkiluoto-3) started in March 12 years late, and of the two Chinese EPRs commissioned in 2018 and 2019, one has been shut down since July 2021 for technical problems.

As for the French reactor, in Flamanville, the cumulative delays reach 11 years for fuel loading now scheduled for the 2nd quarter of 2023, and the cost has risen to 12.7 billion euros according to EDF’s estimate as of January 12, 2022 In 2006, this very powerful 1,650 MW reactor was announced at 3.3 billion euros.

EDF has accumulated bad news since the beginning of the year. The group had to be recapitalized in April, and its profit will plunge this year in large part because the French state has asked it to sell more electricity at low prices – a file on which the CEO publicly opposes the government. .

In addition to the delays of the French and English EPRs, the group must also solve a problem of corrosion of pipes which forced it to stop 12 of its 56 French reactors. In total, more than half of the reactors in France are now shut down for maintenance.

Hinkley Point C is the only nuclear power station being built in the UK. EDF is the project owner, while its Chinese partner CGN owns a third of the project. It adjoins the Hinkley Point B nuclear power station, commissioned in 1976 and which EDF has planned to shut down by July 2022.

The ambition across the Channel is to maintain the nuclear share of the energy mix at 20% in order to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 – while there are currently 15 reactors in the United Kingdom on 8 sites. London wants to produce 95% low-carbon electricity by 2030.

In France, EPR technology remains at the heart of the energy strategy. President Emmanuel Macron has announced his intention to relaunch a nuclear program with six new generation EPR2 reactors, praising in particular the climatic advantage of the electricity thus produced.

This long-term project will not be completed during the five-year term. The first commissioning is not expected before 2035 or 2037. But the financial stakes are immediate and considerable, with an estimated cost of more than 50 billion euros for six reactors.

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