Nuclear: the adventures of the Finnish RPE Olkiluoto-3 continue

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New problem for the Finnish EPR Olkiluoto-3. This Monday it was disconnected from the network after a problem in a turbine, according to TVO, the Finnish operator of this plant built by the Areva-Siemens consortium.

The reactor was unexpectedly disconnected from the grid around noon (0900 GMT) due to a problem on the turbine side »a TVO spokeswoman told AFP. The problem arose the day after the resumption of production tests, which followed the automation work. With a power of 1,650 megawatts, the only turbine that produces electricity thanks to the steam from the reactor, is located in the non-nuclear part of the site.

“The plant is completely safe. But it is not currently injecting electricity into the grid,” according to TVO.

twelve years late

After twelve years of delay, the reactor was commissioned in March. Normal full power start-up is planned after a trial period which has also been delayed. In June, TVO pushed back the normal production date to December. This is very popular in Finland, where the plant must facilitate a winter that promises to be strained on European power grids due to the current energy crisis. According to TVO, the exact cause of the outage has not been identified.

“When we find out, we’ll know if it’s a temporary problem or if it’s something that needs to be fixed,” according to spokeswoman Johanna Aho. The manager was unable to say what the impact would be on the release date, which has already been postponed twice since April.

With an installed capacity of 1,650 megawatts (MW), this EPR is set to become one of the most powerful reactors in Europe. Once commissioned, it will supply Finland with no less than 14% of its electricity, supplementing the nuclear output of the country’s other two power plants already in service, at Olkiluoto and Loviisa on the country’s west coast. These facilities already produce around 30% of the national electricity.

For the Olkiluoto-3 site, which started in 2004, you have to be patient. Because in Finland as elsewhere, EPR construction is marked by numerous schedule changes and financial mismatches. The only one under construction in France, in Flamanville (Manche), will enter service in 2023, eleven years late and with a budget multiplied by almost four (from 3,300 to 12,700 million euros without counting construction costs). As for the Hinkley Point EPR, in the south of England, the start of electricity production has been postponed until 2027. Finally, in Taishan (China), the EPR that has been closed for a year has returned to work this summer.

Tensions between TVO, Areva and Stuk

Of Franco-German origin, these reactors acquired in Europe after the Chernobyl disaster were to become, however, the spearhead of the atomic sector, and revitalize a sector in decline. In fact, these offer more power and better security than the second generation installations, which make up the current fleet. But between welding defects, anomalies in the composition of the steel in the top and bottom of the tank, and problems with suppliers, the EPR’s image has gradually been tarnished.

In the case of Olkiluoto, these disappointments even led to long and intense tensions between TVO, Areva and the Finnish nuclear authority, Stuk. TVO had signed an agreement in March 2019 to end the litigation, providing for the payment of compensation of 450 million euros. Covid-19, in turn, caused further delays at the Finnish site.

The return of the civil atom

However, if the EPR problems and then the Fukushima disaster in Japan in 2011 have dampened hopes of a “renaissance”, nuclear energy, which emits little CO2, sees its prospects improve again. A sign of a more favorable situation, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) this year raised its projections for the first time since Fukushima, now forecasting a doubling of installed nuclear power by 2050 in the most favorable scenario.

For its part, Brussels has granted the “green label” to the civil atom, to allow its operators to benefit from financing conditions as favorable as those granted to develop renewable energies, although the conditions are numerous. A situation that EDF intends to surf.

Finally, in France, Emmanuel Macron recently announced his intention to build no less than 14 EPRs on national soil, eight of which are optional in the longer term, in order to ensure the renewal of the electricity mix by 2050. Something to give visibility to the sector, which has been waiting for this new impulse for a long time.

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