Progress at what was supposed to be the world’s first EPR nuclear project, now almost a decade overdue and billions over budget, is a key hurdle for French plans to save ailing state-owned reactor supplier Areva SA.
In Finland, where the project is being built, the hope is a shake-up in France will bring fresh impetus to the long-delayed Olkiluoto 3 plant.
“We welcome every initiative which will help Areva and its associates finalize the construction and the commissioning,” said Pasi Tuohimaa, a spokesman for Teollisuuden Voima Oyj, which will operate the plant, known as OL3, when it’s finished. “TVO is following with huge interest what is happening in the French nuclear industry.”
The reactor, being built by Areva and Siemens AG, was to be a showcase for technology that France sought to export around the world. Begun in 2005, delays and overruns spurred losses at Areva that led to a French plan to save the company by selling its nuclear reactor business to Electricite de France SA. EDF and Areva both identified OL3 as a factor in their negotiations.
Areva last year pushed the expected start of OL3 to 2018, almost a decade after the initial 2009 projection, adding to tensions with TVO. A series of delays led to a legal fight, now in arbitration, as Areva and Siemens sought compensation from TVO for losses and the Finnish company lodged counter claims.
“We really, really want OL3 finished because it is important for our company as well as the European nuclear industry,” Tuohimaa said. “Work appears to have picked up a little at the site in recent months.” Test of instruments and the control system “is progressing well,” he said.
EDF will seek guarantees to protect it against past risks in any deal, Chief Executive Officer Jean-Bernard Levy has said.
Areva Chairman Philippe Varin last week said that risks on OL3 must be shared fairly. Areva declined to comment on the talks, while a spokesman for EDF also wouldn’t comment.
Former EDF CEO Henri Proglio said last year the utility was considering helping complete the Finnish reactor, although it didn’t want to play “UN peacekeepers” between Areva and TVO. EDF is building a similar model in Normandy, also over budget and behind schedule, as well as two in China. It has plans for two in the U.K., although final approval is delayed.