France’s EDF said on 11 January that it had “adjusted the schedule for the Flamanville 3 project, taking into account the state of progress of the operations and the preparation for start-up in an industrial context made more difficult by the pandemic”. The fuel loading date has been rescheduled from the end of 2022 to the 2nd trimester 2023. The estimated cost at completion has increased from €12.4 billion ($14bn) to €12.7 billion.

The Flamanville NPP has one European Pressurised Water Reactor (EPR) under construction at unit 3 and two 1,300MWe pressurised water reactors in operation at units 1&2. The 1600MWe Flamanville 3 EPR, which started construction in December 2007, was originally expected to cost €3bn and to be ready in four years. However, it has faced a series of delays and technical issues. the lastest estimate from October 2019 puts the cost of the Flamanville EPR project at €12.4bn. ASN said 2020 that around 100 welds in the reactor circuits need to be repaired before the reactor could be commissioned.

There are currently five EPR projects worldwide: Flamanville 3 Olkiluoto 3 in Finland (also delayed and over budget), Hinkley Point C in the UK (two units) and Taishan 1&2 in China. Taishan 1 began commercial operation in December 2018 and Taishan 2 in September 2019.  Taishan 1 — a joint venture between China General Nuclear, EDF and Guangdong Energy Group — was the first EPR to enter service but was taken offline in July 2021 following  some technical problems requiring the replacement of damaged fuel rods. 

EDF said the new organisation put in place at the beginning of 2020 to successfully bring the Flamanville 3 reactor into operation at the required levels of safety and quality had made it possible to improve efficiency. The most complex operations to repair the penetration welds on the reactor building had been successfully completed and deemed compliant by the French Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN). “These operations were the first of their kind in the industry,” EDF noted.

All the fuel assemblies that will be used in the first operating cycle of the reactor are stored in the fuel building, in accordance with the operating fleet procedures and 90% of the equipment has been transferred to the teams in charge of the operation. Over 55,000 documentary checks and verifications have been carried out on the installations, regarding more than 7000 pieces of equipment that are "important for safety".

EDF added that before loading the fuel into the reactor vessel and carrying out the overall start-up tests, several operations remain to be carried out:

  •  completion of the weld upgrade of the main secondary circuit;
  • a new series of qualification tests of the installation before loading the fuel into the reactor;
  • Taishan 1 reactor technical issue experience feedback integration;
  • the final instruction of the last technical issues, in conjunction with the ASN, leading to the granting of administrative authorisations;
  • finishing touches to the installation and the provision of all the documents required for operation.

EDF noted that inspections carried out on fuel assemblies at China’s Taishan 1 reactor following the technical problems encountered during its second operating cycle showed mechanical wear of certain assembly components. “Such phenomenon has already been identified in several reactors of the French nuclear fleet. This phenomenon does not bring into question the design of the EPR.”

French government spokesperson Gabriel Attal said on 12 January that EDF should draw the necessary lessons from the various delays affecting Flamanville and “we will be vigilant over making sure EDF draws the right lessons from the Flamanville problems", he told a news conference after a cabinet meeting.