U.K. Nuclear Regulator Approves EDF, Areva Reactor Design

The U.K. nuclear regulator gave approval to a reactor design by Areva SA and Electricite de France SA, bringing EDF closer to its goal of expanding in England.

The Office for Nuclear Regulation and the Environment Agency permitted Areva’s U.K. European pressurized water reactor design for construction in Britain, according to a statement today on the ONR website.

The government wants to make building new nuclear stations more palatable for investors while reassuring consumers the industry is safe as it pushes low-carbon energy sources to meet growing demand. EDF, GDF Suez SA and Iberdrola SA are among companies studying whether to build nuclear plants in Britain, which is seeking to replace an aging power station without adding to carbon emissions.

“It is a significant step, and ensures that this reactor meets the high standards that we insist upon,” said Colin Patchett, acting chief inspector of nuclear installations at ONR. “There remain site-specific issues that must be addressed before we’ll approve its construction on any site.”

The purpose of the so-called Generic Design Assessment process is to improve the safety and environmental aspects of reactors while their designs are still on paper to avoid costly changes during construction. The Areva, EDF design, called the U.K. EPR, is the first to go through the assessment process. It cost the companies 35 million pounds ($57 million) and took five years. All new reactor types proposed for the U.K. must complete the GDA.

Fukushima Concern

EDF operates eight atomic power stations in Britain and has proposed to add Areva reactors at its Hinkley Point and Sizewell sites. Areva, based in Paris, yesterday signed agreements with 25 U.K.-based companies. The pact worth as much as 400 million pounds is to supply equipment and services for two EPR reactors at Hinkley Point C, which won a site licence last month.

Vincent de Rivaz, chief executive at EDF’s local unit, said in a statement that the assessment process didn’t change cost estimates for the reactor. EDF Energy plans to have “main components” of agreements relating to contracts for power from Hinkley Point in the next few weeks, with a final investment decision “at the earliest possible date,” he said.

The Office for Nuclear Regulation in December 2011 gave “interim” approval to Areva and EDF’s design. It asked the companies to address 31 concerns, the last of which was settled on Dec. 7, the watchdog said in a statement on its website yesterday. One of those concerns was added after the Fukushima disaster, Dave Watson of the ONR said in an interview in London.

The GDA acceptance doesn’t allow for construction to proceed. That still requires site specific approvals, such as planning permission, environmental permits and nuclear site licences.

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