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After twelve years of delay and a triple bill, the Finnish EPR has finally started

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Everything comes to those who wait. The EPR built in Olkiluoto in Finland by Areva finally started on the night of Monday 20 to Tuesday 21 December. The safety authority (Stuk) had announced the previous week that it had granted “authorization to proceed with the divergence and perform low-power tests”.

Clearly, the nuclear reaction in the OL3 reactor has been triggered. A gradual build-up will then follow. TVO expects first electricity production at the end of January and full power should be reached in June 2022.

First EPR in service in Europe

The Finnish EPR is the first to enter service in Europe. That of Flamanville (Manche) is planned for the beginning of 2023 and EDF is building two others on its Hinkley Point site in Great Britain. In China, two EPRs started up in 2018 and 2019, but one of them was stopped last July, without the authorities giving the exact reasons.

→ ANALYSIS. Flamanville EPR, the autopsy of a fiasco

It’s the end of a project damn “, which shook the French nuclear industry and led to the dismantling of Areva. Work began in September 2005 for commissioning initially scheduled for mid-2009. Twelve years of delay therefore and costs which have, in the meantime, soared.

→ ARCHIVES. Another year late for the Finnish EPR

The agreement signed in 2003 with TVO, an electrician whose shareholders are the major Finnish paper manufacturers, provided for a bill of 3 billion euros. It now stands at 8.84 billion euros. Almost three times more.

The duel between Areva and EDF

The history of the Finnish EPR is first and foremost that of the fratricidal war between EDF and Areva in the early 2000s. Created in 2001, Areva is the merger of Cogema, which manages upstream and downstream of the cycle (the uranium mines, the enrichment of the fuel, and at the end of the chain its reprocessing in La Hague) and of Framatome, the constructor of reactors at the origin of the French fleet.

At its head, the highly publicized Anne Lauvergeon believes that it is up to Areva to take control of the nuclear industry, especially since the company is then working with the German Siemens on the construction of a new model, the reactor European pressurized water (EPR).

To the chagrin of EDF which, with its 58 reactors in operation, considers itself the natural leader of the sector. In this fight, Anne Lauvergeon wants to go fast to win. This is what will push Areva to ” slash prices to respond to the call for tenders launched by TVO.

Chain setbacks

The sequel is known. The EPR has never been built and that of Olkiluoto will therefore be a seed. When construction started, it had been twenty-five years since Finland had commissioned a reactor. The Finnish Safety Authority gives the impression of rediscovering everything and is much too slow in its validation procedures, then complain Areva engineers. They start work without delay, at the risk of having to start over. In total, eight primary circuit pipes had to be redone to meet Stuk’s requirements.

NGOs, including Greenpeace, denounce the quality of the concrete of the slab supporting the reactor, the failed forging of certain parts of the nuclear island, but also the multitude of poorly trained subcontractors and the employment of a thousand Polish workers, i.e. a third of the workforce, who are not accustomed to this type of work.

Areva split into three

Between TVO and Areva, the story ends in court, with around one billion euros in compensation to be paid for the French group. Nearly bankrupt, it was split into three parts in 2017: Orano, which took over the scope of Cogema; Framatome, bought by EDF after recapitalization by the State, and Areva, a defeasance structure responsible for managing the end of the Finnish file. In total, the operation will have cost 7.5 billion euros to public finances in recapitalization.

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