After pain of Olkiluoto and Flamanville, world’s first EPR fires up in China

French energy giant EDF announced yesterday that the first example of an EPR third-generation nuclear reactor has begun operating.

Xavier Ursat, head of new nuclear power at EDF, tweeted: "The EPR at Taishan in China has just undergone its first chain reaction and has entered service. This is excellent news for the whole nuclear industry."

Among those breathing a sigh of relief will be the reactor’s designers at Areva, EDF and Siemens, as well as everyone involved with the Hinkley Point C project in the UK, which will use the EPR design.

Originally an acronym for "European Pressurised Reactor", EPR is an evolutionary descendant of light water designs such the Framatome N4 and Siemens Power Generation Division KONVOI reactors.

Up until now, attempts to build an EPR have been painful.

Work on Olkiluoto 3 in southern Finland began in 2005 and is only now undergoing fuel loading, while work on Flamanville 3 in northern France started in 2007 and its progress is on hold while welds are checked. Both projects have seen costs skyrocket.

The success of the Chinese construction industry in bringing the Taishan plant online after nine years – five later than originally planned – has now thrown a lifeline to the EPR design.

However, it still faces stiff competition from Russia’s gen III VVER 1200 and China’s Hualong 1.

The Taishan plant in Guangdong province, about 50km south of Hong Kong, will eventually have two EPR pressurised water reactors, each with a capacity of 1,750MW. The estimated construction cost is $7.5bn.

It is 70% owned by the China General Nuclear Power Group, and 30% by EDF. The second EPR is due to enter service next year.

Work began on the EPR in 1991.

Its design is more powerful than other gen III reactors, and includes new safety features, but it has been criticised for its complexity and the practical difficulty of building it.

This led to a redesign and the promise of a New Model EPR with optimised construction times and costs, which may be available in 2020.

Image: Taishan goes online (Xavier Ursat)

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