Rocketing costs for owner of Scottish nuclear power stations cast doubts over new-build atomic energy plants in England

Hinkley Point nuclear power station signTechnical problems and tightened safety rules have further delayed French utility EDF’s new-generation nuclear reactors and the cost has now ballooned to more than three times initial estimates, according to Reuters.

The European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) being built in northern France – which EDF also plans to build at Hinkley Point in western England – had already been delayed by years due to problems with suppliers and new safety requirements following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.

EDF has also owned and operated the two Scottish nuclear reactors at Torness and Hunterston since previous owner British Energy – the UK government’s failed privatisation of the UK nuclear power industry – went bust 15 years ago.

But the discovery of weak spots in the reactor vessel and problems with safety valves have added to doubts about the EPR, which France and Britain have chosen to replace their older reactors, a costly process that will take decades to implement.

EDF said the EPR it is building in Flamanville, Normandy would not be operational before 2018 and would cost 10.5 billion Euros – more than three times the initial budget of 3 billion Euros.

But EDF chief executive Jean-Bernard Levy said: “I have total confidence in the Flamanville EPR. It is a priority for EDF and is a major issue for the French nuclear industry and its international reputation.”

England’s involvement is especially sensitive as the UK government has offered French state-controlled EDF a 35-year power price guarantee to ensure the EPR reactors are commercially viability.

Levy said Britain’s two EPR reactors at Hinkley Point, to be built by EDF and its Chinese partners, would be the same as at Flamanville, not a simplified “New Model” it is now working on with Areva, which designed the original EPR.

The EPR is a new type of pressurised water reactor built to resist even the impact of a commercial airliner crash, but it has been criticised as too big and too expensive.

Levy said the EPR was a prototype and therefore prone to difficulties. But he added the new cost estimate was realistic and insisted Flamanville’s woes would have no impact on the 22-billion-euro Hinkley Point project for two EPRs.

He said Hinkley Point’s commissioning date would depend on the final investment decision by EDF. This suggests the start of the British reactor might also be delayed from the 2023 target announced in October 2013, when EDF signed an agreement with the UK government.

A spokeswoman for Britain’s Department of Energy (DECC) said: “The UK government and EDF continue to work together to finalise the project. The deal must represent value for money and is subject to approval by ministers”.

The company also wants to build two more EPRs at Sizewell in eastern England.

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