The foundation stone of the Olkiluoto 3 European Pressurized Water Reactor (EPR) was laid on 12 September by dignatories from plant owner Teollisuuden Voima Oy (TVO) and constructing consortium Framatome ANP and Siemens. The large and prestigious ceremony saw a time capsule containing details of project officials encased in concrete beneath what will become the main cooling water pumping building.

21 months after the signing of the contract between TVO and the Framatome ANP/Siemens consortium, the space between Olkiluoto’s two BWR units and the sea has been transformed from pine forest to a huge building site, bristling with cranes. The €3 billion plant represents the biggest ongoing investment in Europe and biggest ever industrial investment in Finland.

Some 500,000m3 of granite has been blasted with dynamite, leaving a 40m-deep hole. This work was carried out with the site’s two BWRs in operation. The blasted granite material was crushed with a hydraulic hammer before being either removed or used on site as gravel.

Inside the pit, work is underway to complete the single thick concrete base slab upon which the entire nuclear island will be founded. It is possible to see where the reactor containment itself will be, and the future position of the turbine hall. The bottom section of the reactor containment’s metallic liner, made by Babcock Noell from Finnish steel, has been delivered to the site and awaits placement. Instead of constructing a dock to receive such massive components from seagoing barges, project managers are using an enormous 140m-high crane to lift parts directly from the barges to the site itself. Several 350t lifts have been carried out so far, but the plant’s gigantic 5000t 1600MWe turbine which will be built by Siemens in Mulheim, Germany may have to find another route.

Tunnels for cooling water and safety equipment have been excavated. The cooling intake area of 60m2 will allow 60m3/s of water to flow into the machine – a certain amount of warm water will be returned to the intake zone to prevent freezing during the Finnish winter. Indeed, Finnish regulations limit the temperatures at which construction can continue. At temperatures of –20°C working with cranes becomes dangerous but site manager Hannu-Heikki Manninen does not expect disruption.

There has been much progress since the site was passed from TVO to the consortium on 1 February but progress could have been a little quicker. The Finnish Radiation and Nuclear safety Authority (STUK), which has been overlooking the project, has submitted some questions on design and construction details to TVO, which then entered liaison with Framatome ANP and Siemens before submitting documents back to STUK. Senior managers at Framatome ANP and Siemens told NEI that these processes of verification have set some parts of the project back by two or three months.

During the press conference, Anne Lauvergeon, chair of Areva, said the firm (which is a parent of Framatome ANP) was devoting efforts to the project’s tight five-year schedule and working towards “more and more efficient coordination with TVO and STUK.”

Framatome ANP hopes that publicity of the project – and the fact it exists in reality, not just on paper – will help it export more units. Particular markets of interest to the firm are China where it is involved in ongoing bids, and the USA where its local office is working with regulators on a pre-licensing review for the rebranded ‘US Evolutionary Power Reactor’.

Representatives of China’s construction, engineering and power generation companies involved in overseas nuclear bidding processes told NEI that the actuality of the construction work would certainly influence their decision making. Officials are expected to make a decision on the four nuclear islands to be split between the Sanmen and Yangjiang sites in Guangdong province later this year. Besides EPR, other designs under consideration include AtomStroyExport’s already-deployed VVER-1000 and Westinghouse’s as-yet undeployed AP1000.

As for new build in Finland, there is talk of a sixth unit (in addition to the two Loviisa VVERs, the two Olkiluoto BWRs and the EPR), but the intensity of discussions goes up and down. It is thought that new construction at Loviisa might be preferable from a grid-management point of view, but TVO say Olkiluoto could support another EPR. In addition, TVO’s shareholders originally wanted the firm to provide an additional 3000MWe; the EPR under construction will meet 1600MWe of that, leaving easily enough demand for another new plant.

Paavo Lipponen, speaker of the Finnish parliament, and the former prime minister whose second government took the decision to build Olkiluoto 3, said that a white paper will be published during October which will in principle allow the construction of another new unit, but that would be a separate decision. Timo Raja, chairman of TVO, said the company has the skill and capability to build another but is waiting for political guidelines.

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