Fuel loading begins at Finland’s OL3

30 March 2021

Finnish utility Teollisuuden Voima Oyj (TVO) said on 27 March that fuel loading had begun at unit 3 of the Olkiluoto NPP and was expected to continue for a week. During the months following the fuel loading, the EPR reactor will undergo a range of tests as maintenance and finalisation work continues. These will include hot functional testing, in which the reactor and turbine island will be submitted to dozens of separate tests at different pressure and temperature levels. Previous hot functional testing took place in 2018.

The fuel loading began the day after a permit was issued by Finland’s Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (STUK). STUK said OL3 meets the safety requirements set for it and its safety and readiness arrangements and that the procedures are sufficient for loading fuel into the reactor. A total of 241 fuel assemblies manufactured in Framatome's plants in Germany and France will be moved from storage and loaded into the reactor vessel - the fuel was delivered to Olkiluoto in 2018. An integrated 40-person team comprising staff from TVO, Areva and Framatome will undertake the fuel loading. The team includes 15 fuel handlers, personnel specialised in fuel handling operations, and four neutronics engineers in charge of monitoring the core.

STUK Project manager Essi Vanhanen explained that OL3 technically became an operating NPP at the start of fuelling. As a licensee, TVO is responsible for the safety of the plant and for ensuring that the plant is used in accordance with safety requirements. 

TVO said in its 2020 report that the major risks related to OL3 EPR were related to the schedule of the project, the consortium company Areva’s sufficient financial capacity to fulfil its obligations until the end of the guarantee period, and the profit-yielding capacity of the project. Under the plant contract, electricity production was originally scheduled to start at the end of April 2009. The completion of the project, however, has been delayed. According to the schedule last updated by the plant supplier in August 2020, regular electricity production at the unit is not set for 2022.

TVO said that, during 2020, several risk management measures related to the OL3 project had been executed to improve TVO’s readiness to commission the plant as well as to operate three nuclear power plant units. If the OL3 EPR project fails to reach the projected output level, load factor, or operating cost structure, or if the output level is restricted by the main grid, there is a risk that the production cost will rise. This risk has been analysed with the help of various scenarios influencing OL3 EPR’s profit-yielding capacity. As part of its risk management measures, TVO as licensee will ensure among other things, that OL3 has undergone extensive functional testing before nuclear test operations are launched. TVO will ensure that the experiences from the EPR at China’s Taishan NPP are utilised during nuclear commissioning of OL3.

OL3 was procured as a fixed-price turnkey project from a consortium comprising Areva GmbH, Areva NP SAS, and Siemens AG. As stipulated in the plant contract, the consortium companies have joint and several liability for the contractual obligations. In March 2018, TVO signed a comprehensive Global Settlement Agreement (GSA) with the consortium companies as well as with the Areva Group parent company Areva SA. Under the agreement, the consortium companies committed to ensuring that the funds dedicated to the completion of the OL3 EPR project are sufficient and cover all applicable guarantee periods. A trust mechanism was set up funded by Areva companies to secure the funds required to cover Areva’s costs for the completion of the OL3 project. TVO said the fund had been replenished during the accounting period according to the terms of the agreement. 

The Finnish Government granted an operating licence for the plant in March 2019 and TVO applied to STUK in April 2020  for permission to load fuel into the reactor. According to the schedule, the unit will be connected to the grid in October, and regular electricity production will begin in February 2022.

The new Areva management, appointed in the summer of 2020, is preparing a financial solution to finalise the project until the end of the guarantee period and TVO is continuing negotiations with the Areva–Siemens consortium on the terms for project completion. TVO estimates that its total investment in the OL3 project will be approximately €5.7 billion. Compensation payments for delays from the plant supplier to TVO in accordance with the GSA will continue until 30 June.

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