Olkiluoto, Flamanville, and Hinkley


in Economics, Geek stuff, Politics, The environment

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 Électricité 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. €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 £18 billion, and back in 2013 the U.K. government agreed to pay £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 reactor’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.

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

. July 29, 2016 at 2:36 pm

World Nuclear Association supports positive decision on Hinkley Point C

Press Release Issue Date: 28 July 2016

Speaking ahead of the upcoming EDF Board meeting, where a discussion on the Final Investment Decision for Hinkey Point C is expected, World Nuclear Association Director General Agneta Rising said;

“Hinkley Point C would set the UK on a course for a new generation of nuclear power plants that would be the foundation of a reliable low carbon electricity generation mix fit for the 21st century.”

Hinkley Point C would be the first of a series of new build projects that will bring multinational nuclear energy expertise to the UK. Plans involving many reactor vendors are projected to bring more than 15 GWe of new nuclear build to the UK in the 2020s.

The UK’s Climate Change Act commits the country to an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, compared to 1990. Similar action is needed worldwide to tackle climate change effectively, requiring global decarbonisation of electricity generation by 2050, as well as meeting the growing demand for electricity as countries seek to achieve the benefits of development. These objectives can be achieved through a greater use of nuclear generation alongside other low carbon generation.

World Nuclear Association has proposed the Harmony target for nuclear generation to supply 25% of the world’s electricity by 2050, which will require the construction of 1000 GWe of new nuclear capacity. The number of reactors under construction worldwide is at a 25-year high, with ten reactors starting up in 2015, and the nuclear industry has the potential to further step up to deliver the Harmony objectives.

Agneta Rising said;

“We need to encourage international investment and ensure electricity markets support the energy choices that will meet the growing need for electricity worldwide and protect the planet.”

. July 30, 2016 at 11:56 am
. August 1, 2016 at 1:40 pm

Britain faces a problem in coping with its complex energy demands. It needs to provide extra energy to meet rising demands for power in coming decades but at a reasonable cost – while also reducing carbon emissions by considerable levels in order to meet its climate change commitments. This is not an easy combination to achieve. However, Hinkley Point was considered by many experts to be a crucial aid in reaching these goals.

With its massive 3.2bn watt capacity, Hinkley Point C would provide 7% of the nation’s electricity when completed. Night and day, it would help to generate the power that would keep the nation working while renewable energy sources, mainly wind plants, would provide the rest of the electricity needed by homes and offices. “You have to have some baseload source to provide power when it is utterly calm and renewables are not providing energy,” explains Bob Ward, of the Grantham Research Institute. “Gas and coal plants – which can also supply that baseload – will no longer be viable in future because of their carbon emissions, which cause global warming. You are then left with nuclear.”

This dilemma reveals a major drawback that affects renewable energy. Wind and solar plants are intermittent power suppliers. They often provide power when it is not needed but fail to supply it when it is required. And until a method of storing energy on an industrial scale is developed, this drawback will continue to bedevil its deployment across the country. Research into ways to store energy on a large scale is now being pursued across the globe but may take decades. Similarly, other game-changing energy projects are being worked on.


. August 1, 2016 at 1:42 pm

Hinkley’s nuclear plant fails all tests – bar the politics
Huge, expensive and difficult to build, Hinkley is a throwback to the last century, just as the world is embracing the smart energy systems of the future


. August 1, 2016 at 1:44 pm

inkley’s reactors are a revolution only in the sense that they overturn all logic. Energy efficiency could deliver six Hinkley’s worth of electricity by 2030, interconnector cables to Norway, Denmark and France could add another two or three Hinkleys to the grid by 2025 and four Hinkleys’ worth of electricity could be saved by 2030 by increasing the ability to store electricity and making the grid smarter, with the latter alone saving bill payers £8bn a year. Solar and wind power are also cheaper than Hinkley’s nuclear power.

. August 3, 2016 at 1:45 pm


“Finally the decision to go ahead with Hinkley Point has been taken. This is most welcome, and a good deal for the UK. Although some may think that the strike price is high, it isn’t when you compare it with the cost of offshore wind, solar or other forms of renewable energy. We need a balanced portfolio of low carbon energy sources in the UK in the future.”

Sue Ion, Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering

“The government’s decision to take longer to look at the contract does not change the fundamentals – that by 2030, two thirds of our electricity generation capacity will have retired, and we need to replace it with low carbon and reliable power for the future to improve our energy security and meet our commitments on carbon emissions targets. We now need the new ministers to quickly endorse the decision to show they are serious about industrial strategy, building new infrastructure by securing inward investment to create our low carbon energy supplies of the future.

Tom Greatrex, chief executive, UK Nuclear Industry Association

. August 11, 2016 at 7:29 pm

UK academics join pro-Hinkley nuclear project debate

Nuclear engineering and climate change experts from Imperial College London have outlined the benefits of the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant project in Somerset, England. They have joined the public debate on EDF Energy’s project, after new British Prime Minister Theresa May’s cabinet announced last week that it wants to review the deal and decide in early autumn whether to commit its support.

. August 16, 2016 at 8:34 am

Russia to build 11 new nuclear reactors by 2030

A Russian government decree published yesterday indicates the country plans to construct 11 new nuclear power reactors by 2030 – including two BN-1200 sodium-cooled fast neutron reactors. The document, which covers “territorial planning for energy” for the period, also identifies six points for radioactive waste disposal.

. August 17, 2016 at 2:43 pm

China-U.S. cooperation to advance nuclear power

With China having the largest fossil fuel CO2 emissions today and the United States being higher in per capita emissions (see related energy consumption in the first figure), these countries have a strong mutual interest in stabilizing climate and reducing air pollution. Yet even Germany, despite sizable subsidies of renewable energies, gets only a small fraction of energy from them (see the first figure). Historically the fastest growth of low-carbon power occurred during scale-up of national nuclear power programs (see the second figure). Some studies project that a doubling to quadrupling of nuclear energy output is required in the next few decades, along with a large expansion of renewable energy, in order to achieve deep cuts in fossil fuel use while meeting the growing global demand for affordable, reliable energy (1–4). In light of this large-scale energy and emissions picture, climate and nuclear energy experts from China and the United States convened (see Acknowledgments) to consider the potential of increased cooperation in developing advanced nuclear technologies.

Barriers to expansion of nuclear energy include high construction costs relative to coal and gas; a long time to build conventional large nuclear plants (about 4 to 7 years in Asia versus 1 or 2 years for coal-fired plants); and public concern about reactor safety, waste disposal, and potential for weapons use. Innovative nuclear technologies can help address some of these issues. A large reduction of cost and construction time, essential to accelerate deployment rates, likely requires mass manufacturing, analogous to ship and airplane construction. Such an approach lends itself to product-type licensing, which avoids the long delay and costs associated with case-by-case approval. Passive safety features are available that allow reactor shutdown and cooling without external power or operator intervention. Other innovative designs use fuel more efficiently and produce less nuclear waste, can directly supply energy to industrial processes that currently rely on fossil fuels, can be ordered in a range of scales to suit a variety of needs and geographies, and can reduce or eliminate cooling-water requirements. Some of these developments could be deployed on a large scale by 2030–2050, a time when deep reductions in global carbon emissions will be needed, even as much of the world’s current nuclear fleets are approaching the end of useful life.

Milan August 23, 2016 at 2:01 pm

With surprising vehemence, The Economist has called for the Hinkley Point project to be scrapped:

  • Hinkley Pointless: Britain should cancel its nuclear white elephant and spend the billions on making renewables work
  • When the facts change… Hinkley Point would tie Britain into an energy system that is already out of date

Their main arguments about about economics and alternatives. I worry, though, that they are too concerned about an effort to get a good deal and often insufficiently concerned about climate change.

To have confidence that we will prevent the worst effects of climate change, we may need to invest inefficiently. We may need to invest in renewable forms of energy and forms of energy storage which don’t ultimately prove to be the best. We may need to invest in both conventional and new types of nuclear reactor design. We may even need to dabble in technologies like fossil fuel burning with carbon capture and storage.

How to achieve this, when neither governments nor citizens are willing to accept the real costs and changes associated with addressing climate change, is a whole other matter of uncertainty.

. August 23, 2016 at 2:32 pm

Why Hinkley matters

You urged the British government to cancel the Hinkley Point nuclear-power project and instead spend the money on renewable energy (“Hinkley Pointless”, August 6th). There are a few things to bear in mind that were not mentioned in your leader. We take the construction risk. The consumer pays nothing before Hinkley starts producing electricity. The fact that prices decades from now are unknown is precisely why investors and consumers benefit from a set price today. It protects consumers from volatility. It makes investment possible. You also claimed that combined-cycle gas turbines are cheaper to run (“When the facts change…”, August 6th). That is only true based on today’s low gas and carbon prices and with the running costs of existing plants. The correct comparison is with future options. Under the government’s central forecast for gas and rising carbon prices, the cost of a gas-plant commissioning in 2025 is close to the Hinkley strike price.

Moreover, the government’s pledge to pay £92.50 ($120) per megawatt hour for Hinkley’s output is lower than the average £123 per MWh in renewables’ support schemes. You compared specific technologies without considering the whole-system cost. In fact, a low-carbon mix with nuclear is significantly more affordable than one without. Other technologies play a role but cannot replace the need for large-scale low-carbon generation.

Hinkley will create thousands of jobs as part of a real industrial strategy. Suggesting that Britain could “muddle along” is an unwise response to the issues of energy security and climate change. Hinkley Point is a wise response.

Director of strategy and corporate affairs
EDF Energy

. August 31, 2016 at 1:18 pm
. September 1, 2016 at 7:30 pm

“We need to replace our ageing fossil fuel plants with new low-carbon electricity. It’s a more complex future with interconnectors, batteries, gas, small and large nuclear, renewables, central and decentralised generation. The challenge is to get the right mix,” wrote de Rivaz, “There is no single technology which offers a panacea for our future needs. We need them all, including new nuclear.”

Wind power has grown significantly in the UK in recent years and now provides about 15% of electricity. However, de Rivaz also noted that auctions for offshore wind have recently averaged £137 per MWh, with a further £10 per MWh required to cover its intermittency, which compares poorly to Hinkley Point’s £92.50 per MWh.

. September 15, 2016 at 3:28 pm

Nuclear power – yes please. Hinkley Point – no thanks

Atomic energy is low carbon and safer than you think. But Hinkley C is an expensive white elephant

Nuclear power, whatever its detractors might claim, is a low-carbon energy source, roughly comparable to renewables in terms of total emissions. To shut down viable nuclear capacity in the midst of a climate change emergency (now, in other words), as Germany and Japan have done, is a refined form of madness, especially when at least some of that capacity is likely to be replaced by gas or coal, whose carbon emissions are much higher. Replacing fossil fuels with renewables, on the timescale in which we need to act, is hard enough, without setting yourself the additional, unnecessary challenge of also replacing nuclear power.

Atomic energy is far less dangerous to human beings and the living world than fossil fuels. The dangers of radioactive discharge and nuclear accidents have been systematically exaggerated by campaigners. As a result, the dangers of fossil fuel burning have been implicitly downgraded.

There are several problems with the Hinkley C proposal but the most immediate is this: it could be unbuildable. We all know by now of the delays, debacles and disasters that have beset attempts to construct the only two plants of the same kind, at Olkiluoto in Finland and Flamanville in Normandy. The evidence suggests that these are not just bad luck but an inherent outcome of the fabulously complex design. As Tony Roulstone, who runs the masters programme in nuclear engineering at Cambridge, has argued, the plan for Hinkley C is like “building a cathedral within a cathedral”.

. September 15, 2016 at 3:30 pm

“But there are several potential technologies that raise the possibility of addressing three problems at once: safely disposing of nuclear waste; meeting the country’s energy needs at low cost; and replacing high-carbon electricity with a very low-carbon source. I’m talking about small modular reactors that use nuclear waste as fuel.

The late Professor David MacKay, the brilliant and exuberant chief scientist at the previous government’s climate change department, endorsed an estimate suggesting that one of these potential technologies, the integral fast reactor, could supply all the UK’s energy needs for 500 years by consuming the nuclear waste stockpile.”

. September 15, 2016 at 3:31 pm

Integral fast reactor
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

. September 15, 2016 at 3:44 pm
. September 15, 2016 at 4:09 pm

UK government gives go-ahead for Hinkley Point C

The UK government today announced its approval for the construction of two EPR reactors at the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant in Somerset after reaching a new agreement in principle with EDF. However, it has imposed certain conditions for foreign investment in future British nuclear power plant projects.

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