Both on this site and in academic work, I have done a lot of research and writing on nuclear energy: specifically, it’s desirability as a low-carbon energy option and climate change solution, and perspectives on nuclear energy within the environmental and climate change activist movements.
The European Pressurized Reactor (EPR) was designed by Framatome (now Areva NP) and Ã‰lectricitÃ© de France (EDF), largely with the intention of being safer than previous designs through the presence of additional redundant safety systems and with the intention of being cheaper to build, in part by standardizing power plant designs to a greater extent than in previous projects, and in part by being larger than earlier designs.
Three EPRs are under construction in Europe: a third unit at the Olkiluoto Nuclear Power Plant in Finland, a third unit at the Flamanville site in France, and two reactors at Hinkley Point C in the United Kingdom.
All three projects have encountered major difficulties. All three are seriously over budget and behind schedule. â‚¬10.5bn has been spent on the Flamanville facility since 2007. In Finland, the project is a decade behind schedule and three times over budget. Hinkley is expected to cost Â£18 billion, and back in 2013 the U.K. government agreed to pay Â£92.50 per megawatt-hour for electricity from the reactor, which was twice the going rate for electricity at the time.
Furthermore, there are concerns about construction quality. In France, they have “found weaknesses in the reactorâ€™s steel“, specifically flaws in the reactor pressure vessel. Many issues have been identified with the Finnish facility, including by their domestic nuclear regulator. There is also concern about the pressure vessels for Hinkley.
All this looks bad for the future of large nuclear power stations in Europe and North America. It’s possible new Russian and Chinese designs will be more successful. Indeed, China is the world’s most active site of nuclear construction. They had 32 operating reactors as of April 2016, and they had 20 reactors under construction. These include an American design (the world’s first Westinghouse AP1000 pressurized water reactor (PWR)) and domestically developed designs like the Hualong One CPR-1000 PWR and the CAP1400 PWR which is being developed from the AP1000. China is also building two EPRs, which are also behind schedule. Russia is also promoting the the VVER PWR for domestic construction and export.