the adventures of the Finnish EPR Olkiluoto-3 continue

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New problem for the Finnish EPR Olkiluoto-3. This Monday, it was disconnected from the network after a turbine problem, according to TVO, the Finnish operator of this plant built by the Areva-Siemens consortium.

The reactor was disconnected from the network unexpectedly around noon (0900 GMT) as a result of a problem on the turbine side », a TVO spokeswoman told AFP. The problem arose the day after the resumption of production tests, which followed automation work. With a power of 1,650 megawatts, the one turbine which produces electricity thanks to the steam from the reactor, is located in the non-nuclear part of the site.

“The plant is completely safe. But it is not currently feeding electricity into the grid,” according to TVO.

Twelve years late

After twelve years of delay, the reactor was started in March. Normal commissioning at full power is planned after a trial period which has also been delayed. In June, TVO had pushed back the normal production date to December. This is very popular in Finland, where the plant must facilitate a winter that promises to be tense on the European electricity networks due to the current energy crisis. According to TVO, the exact cause of the outage has not been identified.

“When we find out, we’ll know if it’s a temporary problem or if it’s something that needs to be fixed,” according to spokeswoman Johanna Aho. The manager was unable to say what the impact would be on the launch date, which has already been postponed twice since April.

With an installed power of 1,650 megawatts (MW), this EPR is set to become one of the most powerful reactors in Europe. Once commissioned, it will then supply Finland with no less than 14% of its electricity, supplementing the nuclear production of the country’s two other power plants already in service, at Olkiluoto and Loviisa, on the country’s west coast. These installations already produce about 30% of the national electricity.

For the Olkiluoto-3 site, which began in 2004, you have to be patient. Because in Finland as elsewhere, the construction of EPRs is marked by numerous schedule shifts and financial slippages. The only one under construction in France, in Flamanville (Manche), is due to enter service in 2023, eleven years late and a budget multiplied by almost four (from 3.3 to 12.7 billion euros excluding construction costs). funding). As for the EPR at Hinkley Point, in the south of England, the start of electricity production has been postponed to 2027. Finally, in Taishan (China), the EPR has been shut down for a year was returned to service this summer.

Tensions between TVO, Areva and Stuk

Of Franco-German origin, these reactors purchased in Europe after the Chernobyl disaster were nevertheless to become the spearhead of the atomic sector, and revitalize a sector in decline. In fact, these offer greater power and better security than the second-generation installations, which make up the current fleet. But between welding defects, anomalies in the composition of the steel of the cover 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 long and intense tensions between TVO, Areva and the Finnish nuclear authority, Stuk. TVO had 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.

A comeback of the civilian atom

Nevertheless, if the problems of the EPR and then the Fukushima disaster in Japan in 2011, have dampened hopes of a “renaissance”, nuclear energy, which emits little CO2, sees its prospects improve again. Sign of a more favorable situation, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) this year raised its projections for the first time since Fukushima, now forecasting a doubling of nuclear power installed by 2050 in the scenario the most favorable.

For its part, Brussels has granted the civil atom the “green label”, to allow its operators to benefit from financing conditions as favorable as those granted to develop renewable energies, even if the conditions are numerous. A situation on which EDF intends to surf.

Finally, in France, Emmanuel Macron recently announced his intention to build no less than 14 EPRs on national soil, eight of which are optional over the longer term, in order 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.

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