July 1, 2022

EPR nuclear reactor built by Areva in Finland started up after twelve years delay

After sixteen years of work and twelve years behind the commissioning date initially planned, the EPR nuclear reactor built by the French Areva in Finland started up this night for the first time, announced Tuesday, December 21, the operator of the central.

After the first chain reaction at 3:22 a.m. local time (02:22 a.m. Paris time) inside the reactor, electricity production should start at around 30% of power when connected to the grid in January, before normal commissioning in June, said Finnish energy company TVO in a press release, welcoming “Finland’s biggest contribution to the climate”.

“The timing of the start was historic. The last time a reactor was launched in Finland was over forty years ago, and even in Europe it was about fifteen years ago ”, underlines the operator of the Olkiluoto plant, referring to the launch of a reactor in Romania in 2007.

At the end of this project launched in 2005 in the southwest of Finland, which has become for Areva a way of the cross undermined by delays and financial drifts, the Olkiluoto EPR will become the most powerful reactor in operation in Europe. With a production capacity of 1,650 megawatts, it should supply around 15% of the Nordic country’s consumption.

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High tensions

After the fuel was loaded into the reactor in March, the Finnish nuclear gendarme had authorized the start of the reactor last week. Designed to revive nuclear energy after the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, in particular thanks to a considerable concrete structure and safety improvements, the EPR encountered major construction problems, particularly in Finland but also in Flamanville, in France.

In Olkiluoto, these difficulties led to long and sharp tensions between TVO, Areva and the Finnish Nuclear Safety and Radiation Protection Authority, STUK. TVO signed an agreement in March 2019 to end the litigation, providing for compensation of 450 million euros to be paid to it. The Covid-19 had in turn caused further delays on the Finnish site, on a site where two old reactors are already in operation.

Only two EPR reactors had so far entered into operation in the world, those of the Taishan power plant in China. Their construction began after that of Olkiluoto-3, the first nuclear reactor to be ordered in the European Union since Chernobyl. Reactor number 1 at this plant located near Hong Kong has been shut down since July after an incident, described as ” running “ by Beijing.

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“Production of safe, reliable and low carbon electricity”

Launched in 1992, the EPR technology was co-developed by the French Areva and the German Siemens within their joint subsidiary, from which Siemens has since withdrawn. Designed to operate for sixty years, the« European Pressurized Reactor » is based on the most widely used pressurized water reactor technology in the world.

The setbacks and financial slippages of the Finnish shipyard, synonymous with billions of euros in losses, caused the complete reorganization of Areva, whose main activities gave birth to Orano and Framatome (a subsidiary of EDF). Only Areva SA remains, a structure whose main goal is to complete Olkiluoto-3.

“This step paves the way for the production of safe, reliable and low-carbon electricity for the people of Finland”, greeted the managing director of Framatome, Bernard Fontana, in a press release. If the problems of the EPR then the Fukushima disaster in Japan in 2011 dampened hopes of a « renaissance », nuclear energy sees its prospects improve again in the face of the climate crisis. Using uranium, nuclear electricity does not emit CO2 during its production and is generally a very low carbon energy.

Sign of a more favorable economic situation, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) this year raised its projections for the first time since Fukushima, now forecasting a doubling of the installed nuclear power by 2050 in the scenario the most favorable.

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The World with AFP