According to EDF, the EPR technology is setting the standard for future nuclear generation around the world to meet the increasing demand for energy in the context of limited reserves of oil, gas and coal and the need to combat climate change.
On the 29th of June at 17:59 PM, Taishan 1 became the first European Pressurized Water Reactor (EPR) in the world to be successfully connected to the grid.
History of the EPR technology
The EPR (European Pressurized Reactor or Evolutionary Power Reactor) came from a first collaboration between France and Germany back in 1989. Initialized by Areva (now Framatome) and Siemens, follow later by EDF. In 1990 a cooperation between the Institut de Radioprotection et de sûreté nucléaire (IRSN) and Gesellschaft für Anlagen- und Reakorsicherheit (GRS) was created to analyse the safety of the EPR technology. Later in 1993 they have drafted the EPRS’s safety objectives which was study by a French and German commission: Groupe permanent d’experts pour les réacteurs nucléaire (GPR) and German commission until 2000.
The objectives are:
- Lower the radiation exposure to the worker.
- Lower the incidents.
- Lower the risk of reactor meltdown.
- Lower the nuclear waste.
- Reduce the cost of electricity production
In 2000, the GPR finished to draft the Conceptual Safety Features file and the Basic Design Report which was used to design the EPR. From 2000 and 2006 a safety study was done to build an EPR at Flamanville in France, which was approved in April 2007. In 2015 after several difficulties to build the first EPR design, EDF stated that a new design and model was being worked on.
Key features of the EPR technology
The EPR is Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR) which is a third generation reactor (GEN III+). It has a capacity to generate an electrical power of 1,650 MW (net) with a thermal power of 4,500MW and has a commercial use of 60 years.
Several features were introduced to the EPR to improve its safety and to limit the chance of having a nuclear disaster as Three Mile Island, Chernobyl or Fukushima:
- Four independent emergency cooling systems, each of them are able to cool the reactor after it stop.
- Two containments building of 1.3 meter each.
- A Core Catcher (in case of nuclear meltdown) to cool the reactor.
Update on EPR construction
Up to now four reactors are under construction (one in Finland, one in France and two in the United Kingdom) and one has entered in commercial operation (China).
Olkiluoto Unit 3, Finland
The Olkiluoto is a Nuclear Power Plant in Finland composed of two Boiling Water Reactors (BWR) producing 880MW and 890MW respectively which have started their commercial use in 1978 and 1979.
During the early 2000’s, Finland wants to build a third Unit at the Olkiluoto Nuclear Power Plan to supply it industry. In 2003 a “turnkey contract” was signed between Areva and Teollissuden Voima Oy (TVO the Finnish operator) to build an EPR reactor, the initial cost was $3.4 billion but after several issues the price has raised significantly. The construction has started in 2005 for a commercial use in 2009 but has been delay due to diverse issues (design, safety assessment, financing, etc.). Up to now the cost of the project has been estimated to $12 billion and is planned to be connected on the grid late 2019.
Flamanville Unit 3, France
Flamanville Nuclear Power Plant consists of two Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR) of 1,330 MW each that was commissioned in 1979 and 1980 respectively.
Unit 3 of Flamanville was the second EPR to be built by Areva and operated by EDF, it has a capacity of 1,650 MW and a lifetime of 60 years. The construction began in December 2007 and excepted to start in 2012 for an initial cost of $3.8 billion. Unfortunately, the Flamanville project has encounters many issues as: issue on the concrete base, quality control problems, welding problems, anomalies on the reactor vessels etc. which have leaded to delay the project and increase it cost radically. The EPR is scheduled to be fuelled late 2019 for a commercial use in 2020.
Areva and China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) signed an agreement to build two EPRs (1,700 MW each) in Taishan worth $9.1 billion including a technology transfer from France to China in 2006 for a commercial use in 2013
The construction has started in November 2009 or the unit 1 and April 2010 for the Unit 2 each units was planned to take 46 months. With the experience and expertise from Flamanville and Olkiluoko, Areva has leaded the Taishan project with much less incidents than its two previous EPRs, the incidents were mainly due to components delay and project management issues. The project was delay by four years and the first unit of Taishan has entered in commercial operation the 13th December 2018 which is the first EPR to be connected to the grid.
Hinkley Point C, UK
In 2008 UK and France has agreed to construction a new Nuclear Power Plant, later in 2010 Hinkley Point has been selected for the construction of two EPRs by EDF. December 2012 the Office for Nuclear Regulation and the Environment Agency awarded EDF nuclear site licence for an initial cost of around $20.5 billion and a commercial operation by 2023.
Hinkley Point C main issue was project financing. EDF had numerous issues to finance its EPRs construction in UK as the construction cost keep rising from $20.5 billion in 2012 to $23.1 billion in 2015 and then $26 billion in 2017. EDF called for its Chinese partners (CGN and CNNC) to finance Hinkley Point C, in 2015 CGN agrees in principle to invest $7.7 billion. EDF and CGN stated that the financing will be mainly owned by EDF (66.5%) and CGN (33.5%). The same year in 2015 UK government loaned 2 billion pounds $2.5 billion to the project. Finally, the construction began to start on the 11th December 2018.
Future EPR construction globally
The EPR has attracted several countries since its conception, EDF and Areva have send numerous proposals to countries who wished to build new nuclear power plant as UAE, Canada, USA, India, Italy, USA and Czech Republic. Unfortunately, some of them refused EDF’s offers. Nonetheless, EDF have almost successfully find an agreement with India for its hottest project: Jaitapur, including the construction of six EPRs.
The project began in 2009 when Areva and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) have signed a Momentum of Understanding (MoM) to set up two to six EPRs (1,650 MW) to the site of Jaitapur. After the Fukushima disaster the India authority await French’s expert study result before engaging any further discussion with Areva, Jaitapur is known to be a seismic area. In 2016 EDF send a first proposal to NPCIL for the construction of the six EPRs to define cost and financing of the project. Two year later in March 2018, Emmanuel Macron (French president) and EDF came to India to meet NPCIL to sign an agreement on the Jaitapur project which define the role of each stakeholders and the construction schedule, however the financing status including the final cost was still not establish. The deal was excepted to be closed by the end of 2018.
Lastly in December 2018 EDF send a proposal to NPCIL, including the cost and the role of French and Indian suppliers: The French suppliers will be charge of the engineering and components of the first two EPRs then a cooperation between the French Indian suppliers will be done for the last four EPRs. If the contract is approved in 2019, the construction could start in 2023. The total capacity of the six EPRs will be 10 GW which will the biggest Nuclear Power Plant in the world.
Competitiveness of EPR as compared to other key technologies like AP1000, VVER, Hualong-1
The EPR is underpinned by two objectives: improve safety and reduce the cost of electricity production through economies of scale.
Areva has improved the safety of its reactor through redundancy systems: the EPR has four separate cooling systems, each of them are able to cool the reactor’s core. Including four separate cooling systems leads to an augmentation of the density of equipment in the building. On the opposite Westinghouse opted for a passive systems and a simplification of the overall design with one core cooling system. Which mean that the EPR is more expensive and difficult to build due to its complexity.
However, Areva aims to reduce the cost of electricity production to 10% cheaper than its previous reactor by reducing O&M (Operation & Maintenance) and fuel costs. According to Areva’s report the EPR design the duration of an outage for refuelling should not exceed 12 days: System designs allow performance of certain maintenance operations while the EPR unit is in operation […] A standard refuelling outage […] is possible for performing all necessaries operations: reactor cool down, fuel unloading, inspection, maintenance, refuelling and thein bringing the reactor back to normal.Its allow the EPR to produce an overall availability of 92% over it service life.
Moreover, good progress has been made in term of nuclear fuel and waste management, the EPR produce 22% more electrical power than regular GEN III reactor by using the same amount of fuel which leads to reduce the volume of waste by around 15% to 30% according to the Autorité de sûreté nucléaire (ASN).
The complexity and the difficulty to build the EPR leads to increase its construction cost. For example, the initial cost for Flamanville 3 was 2,063 USD/kWe to now 6,563 USD/kWe and Olkiluoto 3 2,025 USD/kWe to more than 5,215USD/kWe. Nonetheless for more successful and less tedious project as Taishan 1&2 the construction cost was 1,960 USD/kWe to now 3,150 USD/kWe.
To conclude, even if the EPR has encounter several issues from Flamanville 3 and Olkiluoto 3, EDF and Framatome (ex Areva) have successfully learnt from their mistakes by completing the unit 1 on Taishan last December. EPR reactor is a complex and costly reactor it has its pro: one of the safeness reactor and low cost of electricity production, and cons: construction cost and complexity.
EDF and Framatome have to ensure that the lessons learnt from Flamanville and Olkiluoto will lead to a better management and standardization for their futures project in India and UK.
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