China recently released a positive update on the second EPR reactor at Taishan, some 90 miles to the west of Hong Kong, with the announcement that it had achieved criticality. This follows on from the first unit becoming operational in December 2018, which marked a world first for the design.
Why is this important?
The EPR design (originally the European Pressurised Water Reactor) is under construction at Olkiluoto in Finland, Flamanville in France and, of course, Hinkley Point in Somerset.
The Finnish and French projects have been subject to significant delays: Olkiluoto 3 construction began in 2005 and was initially due to be commissioned in 2009. However, fuel loading is expected in the near future and power production is expected to start early next year, concluding a 15 year project. In France, Flamanville 3 construction began at the end of 2007 and was due to become operational in 2012. Nevertheless, fuel loading is now due towards the end of this year, 13 years later.
Similarly, construction of the Taishan EPR units began in 2009 and 2010 respectively and were supposed to complete in less than four years each, instead becoming 10-year projects. Therefore, while there have been significant improvements in construction schedules, delays and cost overruns have still been significant.
The nuclear industry is not known for delivering big projects to time and cost. Each of these ventures has had its own reasons for delays and cost overruns.
How does this reflect on Hinkley Point C?
Construction of the two EPRs here officially started in December 2018, following significant groundwork preparation, and the first reactor is expected to be connected to the grid in 2026. This appears to be a more realistic 7-8 year project timescale than the overly ambitious four-years of Taishan and it is to be expected that EDF will apply the learning from its other projects to Hinkley Point C.
Hinkley Point C itself was on track to achieve “Jalon Zero” at the end of May; this being a French term meaning “milestone zero”. This was intended to mark the final pour of concrete to construct the nuclear island on which the reactors will be built, which required some 5.6 million m3 of rock to be excavated and 9,800m3 of concrete to be poured.
Only time will tell if Hinkley Point C will achieve all of its milestones and budgets. In future articles, we will look more closely at the reasons for the cost and schedule overruns inherent in this family of EPRs.
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