EDF’s New French Reactor Delayed Another Few Months by Covid
Electricite de France SA delayed the startup of a new nuclear reactor in western France that was already a decade late, and raised its budget for the project yet again.
Fuel will now be loaded into the Flamanville-3 reactor in the second quarter of next year rather than at the end of 2022, EDF said in a statement Wednesday, citing complications caused by the pandemic. It boosted the estimated cost at completion by 300 million euros ($340 million) to 12.7 billion euros.
While the delay isn’t long, it could put further pressure on French power supplies next winter as EDF grapples with reactor maintenance and France phases out the last of its coal-fired plants. The country is already facing an energy squeeze, with its grid operator warning of a possible electricity shortfall this winter in the event of a severe cold snap.
EDF had previously flagged the potential for a later startup, citing the need to fix dozens of faulty welds. The cost of the plant has roughly quadrupled since construction began in 2007.
“The Covid crisis has obviously had an impact,” Xavier Ursat, head of EDF’s new nuclear projects, said on a conference call. Preparations have been slowed by “repairs to welds on the main secondary circuit.”
Despite the mishaps at Flamanville, President Emmanuel Macron has insisted France needs new reactors to replace some of EDF’s aging units and cope with an expected boom in clean-energy demand as the country cuts emissions from everything from transport to heating.
Ursat expressed confidence that the new plant will be connected to the grid before the end of 2023, once it reaches 25% of full output. EDF will have to replace the lid of the reactor vessel during the first refueling halt, he said. The nuclear safety authority requested back in 2017 that the cap be replaced by the end of 2024.
EDF has completed the most complex weld repairs, but must carry out other fixes and run fresh tests before requesting regulatory approval to fire up its new plant. The utility also needs to take into account issues encountered with nuclear-fuel assemblies at a similar reactor it part-owns in China.
Similar problems to those found at the Chinese site have been identified in several French plants in the past, EDF said Wednesday. The issues don’t call into question the design of the new reactor, and the company plans a solution that’s already been applied at some operating French plants, it said.
To avoid fuel-rod leaks, EDF will reinforce the grids that hold them together and rejig the position of some assemblies during refueling, according to Nicolas Fevrier, the executive in charge of EDF’s technical engineering department. The issues aren’t caused by the fact that the new reactors are more powerful than previous models, he said.
There’s a lot riding on the success of the European Pressurized Reactor model. One such reactor is being commissioned in Finland, while EDF is also building two similar plants in the U.K., and hopes to convince the British government to approve another pair. In France, the state-controlled utility is urging the government to order the construction of six new units.
EDF traded down 0.7% at 10.08 euros as of 1:22 p.m. in Paris.
©2022 Bloomberg L.P.