Nuclear: another delay for the Flamanville EPR


At least six more months. EDF announced, on Wednesday January 12, a further delay for the commissioning of its Flamanville EPR, the loading of its fuel now being scheduled for the second quarter of 2023 instead of the end of 2022, for commissioning at full power which will not is more expected before 2024. The bill is also revised upwards, from 12.4 to 12.7 billion euros. Initially, the reactor was to be completed in 2012 at a cost of 3.4 billion.

Repair poorly made welds

To justify this umpteenth discrepancy, EDF highlights “the end of the upgrade of the welds of the main secondary circuit”, in other words, the repair of the many defects observed in certain key places in the reactor building, as highlighted in the report produced by the former boss of PSA Jean-Martin Folz in October 2019.

→ REREAD. Flamanville EPR, the autopsy of a fiasco

“Today, 70% of welds are completed”, assures Alain Morvan, the director of the EPR project called “Flamanville 3”. The work should be completed at the end of August instead of April, according to Xavier Ursat, the executive director of EDF in charge of the engineering department, recalling their complexity. Some 300 people work on it and it was necessary to develop specific robots to reach places that are difficult to access.

These new welds alone would cost the company 1.5 billion euros, estimated the Court of Auditors in a report published in July 2020. According to the latter, the total bill for the EPR could reach 19.1 billion euros. euros, taking account in particular of additional financial costs.

One of the two Chinese EPRs also has problems

The postponement of the timetable is also explained, according to EDF, by the “feedback” of what happened on reactor 1 in Taishan (China) – the first EPR to enter service in the world, at the end of 2018 –, which has been shut down since July 2021. This would be linked to “a phenomenon of mechanical wear of certain assembly components” fuel, Who “does not call into question the EPR model”, assures the French electrician. He will still have to make technical modifications, in particular to the fuel rod springs, which have caused sealing problems.

→ ANALYSIS. Electricity in 2050: France will need nuclear and renewables

There remains, finally, the pandemic, which had a “diffuse impact” on the progress of the site by delaying the work of certain teams, even if the activity was essentially maintained, according to Xavier Ursat.

A very gradual start

All these setbacks therefore postpone the start-up of the reactor. Once the work is completed, we will still have to wait for their validation by the Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN). After fuel loading in the spring of 2023, the Authority should authorize the « divergence », i.e. the start of the nuclear reaction. The EPR will then gradually increase in power: 5%, then 25%. This is when it will deliver its first electrons to the lattice. “Before the end of the year 2023”, promises Xavier Ursat.

But “Flamanville 3” will not be finished with the problems. During the first refueling, scheduled a few months after entry into service, it will still be necessary, as required by the ASN, to replace the lid of the vessel, which was also subject to poor workmanship.

Even if they no longer seek to minimize the problems, the leaders of EDF nevertheless want to put them into perspective. They recall that the French EPR is a ” first in the series “ while acknowledging that their engineers had overestimated their ability to carry out such a project. During the first pickaxe, in December 2007, it had been fifteen years since the group had launched a nuclear construction site.

A very political subject

The group now claims to have learned the lessons of this failure. The industrial organization has been reviewed and the design of future EPRs has been simplified. But, while the Head of State, Emmanuel Macron, has just come out in favor of the creation of six new reactors, the nuclear subject remains inflammable a few months before the presidential election, even if any questioning seems excluded.

Greenpeace calls for a moratorium, while Yannick Jadot, the environmental candidate, and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, that of La France insoumise, denounce a « fiasco » and one “shipwreck”.

The government is also forced to raise its voice. It will ensure that EDF “learns the lessons of the various delays”, underlined his spokesperson, Gabriel Attal, Wednesday, January 12, at the exit of the Council of Ministers.

Especially since the EPR is not the only concern of the electrician, whose nuclear production has fallen to its lowest level at this time of year. Its four most recent reactors, at Chooz and Civaux, are shut down after the discovery of technical problems.


EPRs around the world

Two EPR reactors have been commissioned in Taishan, southern China, after nine years of construction. The first entered commercial operation in December 2018, the second in September 2019. Reactor 1 has been shut down since July 2021, due to leaks on the fuel assembly rods.

The reactor built by Areva in Finland has just come into operation, after twelve years of delay and a bill multiplied by three. Start-up began in December and the EPR, still in the test phase, is currently operating at 25% of its power.

EDF is building two EPRs in Great Britain, on the Hinkley Point site. Their commissioning is scheduled for 2026 and 2027.