“Reactor fault raises spectre of delays at £20bn Hinkley Point
Doubts about the Hinkley Point nuclear plant being built on time intensified yesterday when its developer announced fresh delays to a prototype in France caused by defective welding.
EDF, the French state-controlled energy company, is building Britain’s first new nuclear plant in a generation in Somerset and aims to start generating electricity from the £20 billion project in 2025.
The company is building the same reactor type at Flamanville, Normandy, but has repeatedly had to put back the start-up date, originally 2012, because of construction problems.
EDF said yesterday that first power generation at Flamanville would now slip by a year to early 2020 because it needed to repair “quality deficiencies” in the welding in part of the plant that carries steam to the turbines. The cost of the plant has increased by a further €400 million to €10.9 billion, more than three times its original budget.
City analysts at RBC Capital Markets said the announcement would “add to concerns about whether EDF’s other projects . . . can be delivered on time and budget”. Hinkley Point is due to generate 3.2 gigawatts of power, seven per cent of Britain’s power needs, and is meant to help keep the lights on when coal and older nuclear plants close.
Theresa May gave the plant the go-ahead in 2016 despite widespread concerns over high subsidies to be paid by consumers and about EDF’s inability to build reactors on time and to budget.
Hinkley had already been delayed from its original 2007 plans to start generating by Christmas last year. Costs had risen to £18 billion by the time it got the go-ahead. EDF raised the estimate to £19.6 billion a year ago and warned that start-up could be delayed to 2027 but has since insisted it is sticking to the 2025 start date.
France began working on the reactor type, known as the EPR, 25 years ago. Four reactors were supposed to be operating by now — in France, Finland and China — but construction has been plagued by problems and only one, in Taishan, southern China, is working.
The most serious issue delaying Flamanville was the discovery of a weakness in the reactor vessel. The French factory that made the vessel was subsequently found to have falsified safety tests for components supplied to the French nuclear industry.
EDF insists it has learnt the lessons from the EPRs being built elsewhere, ensuring that the British project will proceed more smoothly. However, Britain’s nuclear safety regulator has raised concerns about substandard quality control checks on EDF’s supply chain.
A source insisted that Hinkley should not suffer the same problems as Flamanville because the project uses a different contractor and testing method, both of which had already been deployed successfully in Finland.
Kate Blagojevic, head of energy at Greenpeace UK, said: “EDF’s nuclear design just doesn’t work very well.
The nuclear power plant in Finland is a decade late and because of yet more technical problems, the Flamanville plant has gone from late to later. This bodes ill for Hinkley Point C.”
A spokesman for EDF said: “The construction of Hinkley Point C remains on track. The project has already benefited, and will continue to learn from the experience of other projects.”
Source: Times (pay wall)