Doubts have grown over the future of the next generation of nuclear reactors in Britain after the announcement of a nine-year delay in building the first one in Finland.
Areva, the French group developing the new-generation European Pressurised Reactor facility at Olkiluoto in Finland, said that it would not be operational until 2018.
The announcement sparked fury in Helsinki, which had hoped to be receiving electricity from the reactor in 2009. It may also cause jitters in Downing Street, after the decision to ask Areva to play a central role in Britain’s next nuclear reactors at Hinkley Point in Somerset.
Areva not only designed the units but also is due to deliver the steam supply systems and the instrumentation and control systems. The latter are at the heart of the Finnish delays.
The £16 billion plant at Hinkley Point C will be built by EDF Energy, Areva’s French partner, which had hoped to have it ready for 2021. However, the timetable has already slipped and may fall back further after a European Commission inquiry into state subsidies for the project.
French sources insist there is no reason to assume that the Hinkley Point reactors will run into the quicksand that has hit the Finnish operation. They blame the fiasco at Olkiluoto on the breakdown of communications with Teollisuuden Voima, the Finnish electricity group that ordered the reactor.
Areva says TVO took four years to approve the reactor’s instrumentation and control system, twice as long as expected. “The principal driver of recent delays to the project has been the reactor instrumentation and control system approval,” Areva said.
French sources say there are no technical problems with the EPR unit in Finland and that projects to build similar reactors in China and France “made substantial progress this year”. Although the Finnish project was known to be running late, Areva had refused to give a completion date until yesterday.
With the final costs of the Olkiluoto reactor likely to be double the original figure of €3.2 billion, the French group is in the firing line. “The delays are because the planning of the plant has taken needlessly long,” Jouni Silvennoinen, TVO’s project chief, said.