Construction vs communication

6 October 2011

EDF’s announcement that the Flamanville 3 EPR is delayed would have come as no surprise to most in the nuclear industry. The date for the FL3 commercial operation now stands at 2016, four years later than originally planned and two years later than EDF envisaged in 2010. The estimated cost of the project has also gone up, to EUR 6 billion, but this would be expected as well. After all, time is money.

EDF said the delay was due to ‘structural and economic reasons.’ These reasons include: an underestimation of the amount of civil engineering work required, two serious accidents, as well as problems coordinating the nine subcontractors working on site.

EDF seems to attribute these problems to a lack of nuclear construction experience in recent years. “Flamanville 3 is the first nuclear power plant to be built in France for 15 years. It is also the first EPR,” the company said in a 20 July press release. It adds later that the project would provide ‘valuable feedback’ for future EPR reactor projects, particularly in the United Kingdom.

That same press release quoted senior figures in EDF and Areva as saying: “The success of the Flamanville EPR is a major challenge for the industrial expertise of the nuclear industry,” and that they would “continue to work together on the feedback from the first EPR sites in order to learn from it for the benefit of future construction projects around the world.” (Those quoted were Hervé Machenaud, EDF Group’s senior executive in charge of production and engineering, and Claude Jaouen, senior executive vice president of Areva’s reactors and services business group.)

This statement appears to suggest that the nuclear industry does not yet have the industrial expertise required for a major nuclear project like Flamanville 3.

But FL3 is not first-of-a-kind. Why has EDF neglected to mention the world’s first EPR project, Olkiluoto 3, which began construction six years ago, in Europe, only 2000 miles away?

Some of the problems now faced in France seem similar to problems experienced in Finland in a project that is now also over time and over budget. For example, in November 2009, Petteri Tiipana, director of nuclear reactor regulation at Finland’s STUK said: “Another lesson [from the OL3 construction] is that the licencee and vendors’ know-how is a key issue...They need to know how a nuclear project is managed, what kind of people are needed in different phases, how you find them, how the contractors are to be managed, what things are specific to nuclear in comparison to other industries, and how that is taken into account in the project”. Now at FL3, EDF has announced a ‘new approach to organisation’ of the project that includes the coordination of teams and partners by creating a committee to bring together the nine companies working on site.

So there may be some cases where the EDF team in charge of the Flamanville project have not really taken on board the lessons of Olkiluoto 3. I?wonder if the Flamanville 3 project is operating as a kind of second first-of-a-kind EPR. If so, why would this have happened?

The most significant difference between the two projects is that Areva is the managing contractor in Finland (and EDF is not involved), but in France, EDF is in charge and Areva is supplying the nuclear island. The Wikipedia entry for the EPR summarises the situation (and the problem) succinctly in two subheadings: “Olkiluoto 3 (Areva’s first plant)...Flamanville 3 (EDF’s first plant)”.

The communication gap between the two companies is nothing new; that Areva and EDF needed to work together more closely was one of the main conclusions of the 2010 Roussely report into the future of the French nuclear industry, chaired by a former EDF executive.

As EDF and Areva now gear up to begin preliminary construction works for the first of what is expected to become four EPR reactors in the UK, it is hoped that they will have learned to work more closely than they have done thus far.

Author Info:

Caroline Peachey is assistant editor of Nuclear Engineering International. This article was originally published in the September 2011 issue of the magazine.

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