The EPR reactor built by the French Areva in Finland has finally received the green light for loading nuclear fuel before a commercial start in sight next year, with more than twelve years of delays.
Read also: Nuclear: green light for a key step for the Finnish EPR
The Finnish nuclear safety authority (STUK) on Friday gave its authorization for this loading into the Olkiluoto 3 reactor (OL3), synonymous with the next first “
A major step for this site undermined by delays and financial drifts.
Fuel loading will start "
before the end of March
", announced for its part the French nuclear group Areva SA, responsible for this very long project on an island in southwest Finland.
Commissioning scheduled for 2009
Initially entrusted to a consortium between the former French flagship and the German Siemens, the construction of the Finnish EPR began in 2005. It was the first reactor of this type to be built and the symbol of what was to be to be at the time a “
” of the civil atom, largely ignored since.
The Finnish EPR experienced considerable delays and additional costs.
It was initially scheduled to be commissioned in 2009, in addition to two existing reactors at Olkiluoto in southwest Finland, but regular commercial production will not begin until next year.
The schedule has been affected recently by technical problems but also by the Covid-19 pandemic.
In its uranium loading authorization permit, STUK considers that the EPR “
meets the safety requirements that have been set
The fuel loading, which will take about a week, means that Olkiluoto 3 (OL3) "
is now a nuclear reactor
", welcomed the operator TVO, hailing "
the most important step in the commissioning of the central so far
The last commissioning of a reactor in Finland, which has four reactors active for about 30% of its total electricity production, dates back to 1980.
There are still things in front of us but we are close to the end,
" said TVO CEO Jarmo Tanhua at a press conference.
Commercial commissioning scheduled for early 2022
After the tests, the next step must be in October the connection to the electricity network, before the commercial commissioning still scheduled for February 2022, he explained.
This date was communicated by the energy company last August, when the announcement of a new delay of more than a year.
This long series of delays which spanned more than a decade created strong tensions between TVO and Areva.
The dispute ended in 2018 with a costly agreement for the French side: Areva SA was to pay 450 million euros to TVO in compensation.
The agreement also provided for an additional penalty of 20 million euros per month of delay beyond the end of 2019. But these latter penalties are currently being renegotiated.
It was based in 2018 on planning assumptions that have since changed.
Suddenly there was a need to reopen discussions,
”explains a source close to Areva SA.
The green light for loading "
will bring a little confidence
" and "
", it is estimated.
Coming from the former Areva group, whose main activities also gave birth to Orano and Framatome (a subsidiary of EDF), Areva SA is a public structure whose main goal is to complete this Finnish project.
The challenge is more generally to ensure that the group has the financial means to complete the construction of the EPR.
But the group needs to bail out.
The State has already bought back 4% of its stake in Orano in February and could acquire more to help it financially.
In Europe, another EPR is under construction by EDF at Flamanville in the north-west of France, a site again plagued by considerable delays.
Read also: Nuclear: in Finland, Areva's endless nightmare
France, world champion of the atom, plans to build new units but will not decide until after the next presidential election in 2022. Two others are also under construction in the United Kingdom, which plans to order two more.
Two other EPRs are also already in operation in China, the first to have started in the world, in 2018 and 2019.