Would you buy two examples of a very expensive and complex product that nobody has ever seen functioning ? The most likely answer is ” No “. Yet that’s exactly what the United Kingdom did buy buying Monday two EPR reactors.
The European Pressurized Reactor is an evolution of third generation nuclear reactors. It was developed by Areva and Siemens – who since withdrew from the project – in the 1990s and 2000s.
To date, four EPR reactors are being built : one in Finland, one in France and two in China. Most of them have been plagued by significant over-costs and major problems. Here is a quick recap on the current EPR constructions :
- The Finnish one was started in 2005 and was first due to be completed in 2009. It still hasn’t produced a megawatt-hour of electricity and may be only completed in 2016, with over-costs in the billions of euros.
- The French one was started in late 2007 in Flamanville, in the French département of Manche, and was due to be finished by 2012. As I write these lines, it still hasn’t been completed.
- To date, only the two Chinese reactors seem to be built according to plans. Started in November 2009, both reactors are due to come online next year.
However, this can be explained : there has been little to no construction of nuclear reactor in Europe and construction norms for nuclear reactors have been increased recently. Safety concerns in China are not as stringent as in Europe as well…
As you can imagine, many in the United Kingdom are denouncing the deal as the prices is reported to have increased from ten billion pounds to 16 billion pounds. That’s a sixty percent increase ! (and over 18.5 billion euros…)
Jonathan Gaventa states on Twitter that ” Since 2009, solar costs down 50%, onshore wind costs down 30%, UK gas prices up 54%, estimated cost of new nuclear at Hinkley C up 100%. “
George Monbiot, a strong advocate of nuclear in the United Kingdom has very strong words against the technology that has been chosen. To him, alternatives like thorium or fast breeders reactors would have been a much wiser choice. I have to agree on that, albeit thorium reactors and similar reactors are to date not a reality.
In another article in the Guardian, one learns that the EPR reactors at Hinkley will come online in as late as in 2023. That’s a full decade from now !
Bad news for EDF (that’s Electricité de France, just in case…) this announcement is NOT legally binding as the BBC reports. It only will be the case next year.
But not everything is grey here.
The two EPR reactors when completed will provide electricity for five million households and will contribute to seven percent of the total electricity generation in the country. If this displaces old coal-fired plants, this would be a HUGE gain regarding air pollution and climate change.
If I was strongly for nuclear before (cf my 10 reasons to support nuclear power) nowadays it looks more and more expensive, challenging and even dangerous…
Since the tragedy Fukushima in Japan and its still ongoing catastrophe, safety concerns have led to a serious increase in over-costs as the case today shows. Meanwhile, energy efficiency literally saves money and cleantech is getting cheaper every year.
I guess it’s high time to have a look at what the future of nuclear can be. Safer reactors are needed. Waste has to be managed and recycled… Nuclear may still be part of the equation, but it has to answer pressing questions…