Progress and problems for EPR projects

15 April 2016

Finnish utility Teollisuuden Voima Oyj (TVO) has submitted the operating licence application for unit 3 of the Olkiluoto NPP to the Finnish Ministry of Employment and the Economy (MEE), TVO said in a statement. An Areva-Siemens consortium is building the 1,600MWe EPR at Olkiluoto 3. TVO expects to receive the licence by the end of 2017, after which the commissioning phase will begin, with eventual regular electricity generation scheduled to start by the end of 2018, TVO said. The Olkiluoto 3 project is now moving into its testing phase, Jouni Silvennoinen, TVO's senior vice-president responsible for the project, said. He also said the operating licence application process is an "important milestone step" towards commissioning. Process-system tests started earlier in April.

TVO's 130,000-page licence application seeks approval to operate Olkiluoto 3 for an initial 30-year period from the beginning of 2018 to the end of 2038. It includes contains information on the technical and operational safety principles, arrangement for nuclear waste management, and details of TVO's expertise and financial position. The application also seeks permission to use existing on-site interim storage facilities for the used fuel and other radioactive wastes that will be generated by the unit over this period.

The application will now be reviewed by the Finnish nuclear regulator STUK, as well as several ministries and certain other authorities and communities. STUK will provide a safety assessment, while the others will submit statements to MEE. The government will then make a decision based on the ministry's recommendations. STUK said its assessment will take about 18 months and it will deliver its statement to the ministry at the end of 2017.

TVO senior vice president for the Olkiluoto 3 project Jouni Silvennoinen said the submission of the operating licence application is "an important milestone" towards commissioning of unit. "Now the project is moving from installations to testing. The operating licence application process is the most important phase of the final acceptance of a nuclear power plant project before start up of the new power plant unit," Silvennoinen said.

The first-of-a-kind EPR at Olkiluoto 3 began construction in 2005 and has seen several revisions to its start-up date, now expected by 2018. Construction of the EPR at France's Flamanville NPP began in 2007, and is also now scheduled to start up in late 2018 (originally 2012). Unit 1 at China's Taishan NPP has been under construction since 2009 and is expected to start up in early 2017 followed by unit 2 later the same year.

However, the Flamanville project is facing problems which could also affect the Chinese units. EDF and Areva on 14 April recommended that the Autorité de Sûreté Nucléaire (nuclear safety authority) should extend the testing programme for the EPR reactor pressure vessel (RPV) until the end of 2016. In April 2015, ASN, Areva and EDF said tests had shown higher than expected carbon segregation in RPV material samples, indicating a possible manufacturing flaw which could affect the vessel's ability to withstand the propagation of cracks. The tests followed earlier chemical and mechanical examinations on forged steel parts representative for the RPV.

According to Areva and EDF, analyses showed that the carbon anomaly extended beyond mid-thickness in one of the two steel parts under examination - representative for the RPV head and bottom - which required material sampling and related tests to be extended to three-fourths of the thickness of the part concerned.

The suggested testing programme extension will therefore include examinations of a third forged steel part aiming to "strengthen the robustness of the demonstration" of the EPR, EDF and Areva said. The proposed additional tests will examine 1,200 material samples, double the number of samples tested in previous analyses. ASN has approved this, aiming to guarantee the representative nature of all the RPV parts tested. Chinese regulators have said construction of the two Taishan reactors will be delayed while tests in France are carried out.

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