Fuel loading has been completed at unit 3 of France’s Flamanville NPP, according to Flamanville 3 project manager Alain Morvan. The 1650 MWe (gross) pressurised water reactor is expected to reach 100% output before the end of the year.

“Flamanville 3 becomes the 57th reactor in the French nuclear fleet This is the culmination of many years of work,” Morvan said on his Linked-In page. Some 150,000 pieces of equipment and all the EPR’s circuits have been rigorously checked and conditioned (visual and endoscopic inspections, cleaning of circuits and premises, etc.). More than 58,000 operating criteria were tested, he noted.

The 241 fuel assemblies, each about 5 metres high and weighing nearly 800 kg, were transferred one by one under water, through the transfer tube that links the fuel storage pool to the reactor pool where the vessel is located. “The handling of the fuel assemblies was carried out with the greatest rigour by the EDF teams. The loading of the reactor concludes the first stage of start-up.

Morvan said the tank will be closed soon and the tank cover equipment will be connected to the regulation and control system. The primary circuit will then gradually increase in temperature and pressure until it reaches hot shutdown conditions at 303°C and 155 bar. The first nuclear reaction, called divergence, will be carried out in the coming weeks. The reactor will then be able to ramp up gradually until it is connected to the electricity grid in the summer of 2024, at 25% nuclear power. The EPR will continue its ramp-up in stages to 100% capacity by the end of the year. During these several months, numerous checks will be carried out in order to test about 1,500 safety criteria.

“As project director since the beginning of 2020, I am proud to have lived the EPR adventure and followed so many activities to bring the reactor to maturity, thanks to the unfailing involvement of the women and men who have worked for this project for many years.”

Construction of the Flamanville 3 reactor began in December 2007, with an initial target of commercial operation in 2013. However, the project has faced significant delays and cost overruns, with the latest estimate by EDF putting the total cost at €13.2bn ($14.2bn). The Flamanville EPR is the first of its kind in France, following the commissioning of EPR reactors in China (Taishan 1&2) and Finland (Olkiluoto 3), all of which were also significantly delayed.