It was time. Twelve years after the originally planned date, electricity production finally started this Saturday from the Finnish EPR Olkiluoto-3, this third-generation nuclear reactor built by the Areva-Siemens consortium.
† Today Saturday, March 12, 2022 at 10:00 GMT, the reactor is connected to the national electricity grid at a level of 103 MW ”, says the operator TVO in a press release.
With an installed capacity of 1,650 megawatts (MW), this EPR should therefore become one of the most powerful reactors in Europe. However, it will not reach normal operation until July and will then supply Finland with no less than 14% of its electricity, in addition to the nuclear production of the country’s two other power plants already in operation, in Olkiluoto and Loviisa, on the west coast of the country. These installations already produce about 30% of national electricity.
EPDs are left everywhere
For the Olkiluoto-3 site, started in 2004, we had to be patient. Because in Finland, as elsewhere, the construction of EPRs was characterized by numerous schedule shifts and financial slippages. The only one under construction in France, in Flamanville (Manche), was also recently restarted until 2023, ie a delay of 11 years, with a budget multiplied by almost four (from 3.3 to 12.7 billion euros excluding financing costs).
As for the Hinkley Point EPR in the south of England, the start of electricity production has been delayed to six months and is now scheduled for mid-2026.
Finally, to Taishan (China), one of the few EPRs in the world to be commissioned, has been shut down since July due to a technical incident.
Tensions between TVO, Areva and Stuk
These reactors, bought in Europe after the Chernobyl disaster, of Franco-German origin, would nevertheless become the spearhead of the nuclear sector and revive a sector in decline. These offer even more power and better security than the second generation installations, which are part of the current fleet. But between welding errors, deviations in the composition of the steel of the lid and the 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 prolonged and intense tensions between TVO, Areva and the Finnish nuclear authority Stuk. TVO had signed an agreement in March 2019 to end the lawsuit, which provided for damages of 450 million euros. The Covid-19 in turn had caused further delays at the Finnish site.
A comeback of the civilian atom
Nevertheless, if the problems of the EPR and then the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan have dampened hopes for a “renaissance”, nuclear power, which emits little CO2, is seeing its prospects improve again. Sign of a more favorable situation, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) raised its forecasts this year for the first time since Fukushima, and now predicts a doubling of installed nuclear energy by 2050 in the best-case scenario.
Brussels, for its part, has awarded the civil atom the “green label” so that its operators can benefit from financing conditions as favorable as those for the development of renewable energy, even if the conditions are many.
Finally, Emmanuel Macron recently announced in France his intention to build no less than 14 EPRs on national soil, eight of which are optional in the longer term, to ensure the renewal of the electricity mix by 2050. Something to give visibility to the sector, which has been waiting for this new impetus for a long time.