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EDF plays down concerns over Flamanville nuclear plant

French energy giant EDF this week insisted that construction of its flagship Flamanville 3 nuclear reactor in France was “on time and on budget” amid claims that the project was running late and that costs were increasing.

EDF managing director of nuclear new build Humphrey Cadoux-Hudson said: “We are still on our construction target to date. These are very big and complex sites so you can never say that nothing is ever going to happen on such an enormous construction programme but overall we are inside what we were expecting.”

The Flamanville plant on the north coast of France is EDF’s first attempt at building its European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) and the project is being closely monitored as the firm plans to build four identical plants in the UK.

“We are still on our construction target to date.”

Humphrey Cadoux-Hudson, EDF managing director of nuclear new build

The EPR was designed jointly by EDF and energy firm and rival Areva. Construction of the world’s first EPR reactor by Areva at Olkiluoto in Finland is already running three years behind schedule due to a multitude of factors including quality control issues.

Industry insiders believe Flamanville is facing similar problems which are pushing up costs.

University of Greenwich professor of energy studies Stephen Thomas said industry journal Nucleonics Week had cited a number of problems and issues with welds in the steel liner of the containment building and errors in the installation of steel reinforcement (see box).

French nuclear power regulator Autorité de Sûreté Nucléaire also halted concrete pouring work for three weeks between June and July last year citing “insufficient project organisation”.

“The original stated costs were €3.3bn [£2.8bn], but these costs were re-stated in December to €4bn [£3.4bn], so they could say that they are running to budget,” said Thomas. “But it is not the original budget. You can’t keep re-writing history.” Construction at Flamanville began in July 2006 and was scheduled to last for 54 months.

Proving ground

Cadoux-Hudson added that Flamanville was a vital proving ground for the new EPR technology which has been developed by EDF and its partner Areva as the third generation of nuclear power generation technology. It is claimed to be more efficient, safer and to produce less waste.

Flamanville’s success is crucial to EDF’s plans to build nuclear power stations in the UK. The design is currently under assessment for prelicensing by the UK Nuclear Installations Inspectorate.

Flamanville: Delays and setbacks

Flamanville nuclear plant

Flamanville nuclear plant

  • May 06 EDF decides to proceed with Flamanville 3
  • Jul 06 Site work begins, to take 54 months and cost £2.8bn
  • Dec 07 First concrete poured
  • Mar 08 EDF told to improve quality control and organisation by regulator Autorité de sûreté nucléaire (ASN). Errors had been detected in the installation of rebar and “insufficient”.organisation for preparing concrete pours
  • May 08 ASN stops EDF from pouring concrete on May 26.
  • Jun 08 Problems “show insufficient discipline on the part of the licensee and insufficient project organisation” Ban lifted June 17. Weld ‘anomalies’ found in steel liner of the containment building.
  • Oct 08 ASN told Areva to improve its oversight of forging by subcontractors.
  • Dec 08 EDF acknowledges cost has increased to £3.4bn due to inflation, and technical and regulatory changes. Construction schedule said to still be achievable.


If the design is given the go-ahead in the UK, EDF plans to construct two sets of twin reactors − most likely starting at Hinkley Point in Somerset and then at Sizewell in Suffolk.

“We have that project to learn from,” said Cadoux-Hudson explaining that the plan was to take the basic Flamanville design and roll it out across other sites.

“The secret for success is to create a fleet of as similar plants as we possibly can. The really big thing for EDF is that fleet is going to be across several countries.”

A realistic timescale?

Although EDF is still waiting on positive planning and approval decisions, Cadoux-Hudson confirmed that he still hoped to start building the new UK fleet in 2012 to 2013 and have it operational by the end of 2017.

“A rollout that has more or less an 18 month gaps between the four EPRs will enable us to roll contracts and people from one site to another in an orderly fashion,” he added. EDF is holding an industry day on 30 June to brief the supply chain about its plans.

“There is still the matter of site approvals. I would be surprised if they could get building before 2014 to 2015.”

Stephen Thomas, University of Greenwich

But Thomas said EDF’s timescale was unrealistic. “For the nuclear inspectorate, new build is the lowest priority. Once generic design approvals are settled, there is still the matter of site approvals. I would be surprised if they could get building before 2014 to 2015,” he said.

Aecom sustainability director Richard John added that the new planning processes designed for new nuclear stations were untested.

“This is a potential point for delay.The planning and regulations are new and an issue for government − any new build will be the first for some 20 years and we just don’t know how things will progress.”

  • A full interview with EDF’s Humphrey Cadoux-Hudson will appear in next week’s new nuclear energy special feature.

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