The revelation that Olkiluoto nuclear power station in Finland is facing new delays has raised concerns this week that the same problems could disrupt the timetable for delivering the new nuclear plant at Hinkley Point in Somerset.
The Olkiluoto delays centre on nuclear reactor vendor Areva’s European Pressurised Reactor (EPR), which is being used on both. The lack of progress on the reactor’s installation and plant automation controls, which are vital for safety, forced client Teollisuuden Voima Oyj (TVO) to state that electricity generation will now not begin before 2015 - a delay of at least a year.
Nuclear experts told NCE that Areva’s EPR faces similar approval problems in the UK, as the reactor progresses through the generic design assessment (GDA) - a four step licensing process covering all areas of non-site specific design from civil engineering to reactor chemistry.
Independent nuclear expert John Large, who previously worked for the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) and is also an expert witness on nuclear, said the Finnish delay could have “serious implications for Hinkley”.
“Areva is being overly optimistic with its current timetable,” he added. “Once you have one delay it quickly cascades into another.”
This is despite Hinkley having a different programme of works - at Olkiluoto construction began before all the approvals were in place while in the UK, approvals must be in place before main civil works can begin.
The Office for Nuclear Regulation granted interim design acceptance - mostly covering the civils works - through the GDA last December. Full acceptance is due to happen by the end of the year but Areva must resolve 28 outstanding issues - of the 31 criteria overall - before then.
University of Cambridge researcher in nuclear energy and former UKAEA employee Tony Roulstone said the timetable for delivery had been made even more challenging following
the Olkiluoto delay.
“There’s a lot of work to do,” he said. “From the 40,000ft level everything looks okay [with the approval process],” added Roulstone. “But there are still a lot of outstanding issues…and the ONR is being very tough with its approval.”
The ONR has already this year raised concerns over whether Areva could resolve issues with the control and instrumentation aspect of the GDA by the end of the year, when it released its latest quarterly update in May.
“If no action is taken to improve matters, it is unlikely that the GDA issues will be closed-out on the timescales indicated in the current resolution plans,” said the report.
Independent nuclear economist John Busby said that the uncertainty over whether and how the EPR will work could cause additional problems when it comes to the financing of Hinkley Point.
EdF declined to comment on the specific impacts of Olkiluoto but said that work was ongoing at Hinkley and lessons continue to be learned.
“The EPR reactors, which we plan to build in the UK, will be the fifth and sixth to be developed internationally and we are actively learning from the experiences of other projects including Flamanville (in France) and Tai Shan (in China),” said an EdF spokesman.
A catalogue of problems
Problems at the Olkiluoto new nuclear power station have been on-going for years with the latest issue concerning the approval of the plant’s control and instrumentation system.
Together they have resulted in developer Areva-Siemens suing client Teollisuuden Voima Oyj (TVO) for €1.9bn (£1.48bn) for failing to approve safety and regulatory documentation. TVO has issued a counterclaim of £1.08bn against Areva-Siemens for the six-year delay in completing the reactor.
2003 TVO and Areva-Siemens sign a £2.34bn fixed turnkey contract to construct an EPR at Olkiluoto
2005 Construction begins with electricity transmission due in 2009
2006 Opening delayed by 18 months due to problems with welding and pouring of the reactor’s concrete slab base
2009 Opening delayed until 2012, with further welding issues slowing progress; Areva states losses of £1.3bn on scheme
2011 TVO puts back electricity generation until 2014
2012 TVO says plant will not be ready for electricity generation in 2014 blaming Areva for failing to approve its C&I system.