Why the incident on the Chinese EPR weakens the French nuclear industry

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Another hard blow for EDF and its third generation nuclear power plant. Its only EPR in service is Chinese and it has known a malfunction for several weeks, if not months. This is what CNN revealed yesterday. A damage that could cost the French champion of the civilian atom dear.

The two Taishan EPR reactors are located 140 km from Hong Kong, they provide power to a basin of five million inhabitants and especially to the highly concentrated industries of Guandong, a region that is already experiencing power shortages. Abnormal quantities of so-called rare gases were detected in the cooling circuit of the first reactor. For the moment, there is no emanation in the air declares EDF, nothing serious a priori. Yet in France, a similar situation would undoubtedly have already led to the site’s closure. But it’s Beijing that dictates the safety standards. EDF has a 30% stake in the company. The French electrician nevertheless takes the incident very seriously, since he designed and built these EPRs, often presented as the future of French nuclear power.

But this technology imagined in the 1990s is struggling to prove its worth

China succeeded in commissioning the first reactor three years ago, while the two units previously planned in Europe, one in Finland and the other in France, at the Normandy site in Flamanville, are accumulating delays and additional costs. In addition, they are still not operational, around fifteen years after the start of the work. A technical ordeal and a financial pit. The Finnish customer is multiplying the procedures against EDF. In France, the Court of Auditors sounded the charge last summer, highlighting the turpitudes of the Norman project. This EPR cost EDF nearly 20 billion euros, five times more than the announced price.

In the French energy strategy, the EPR is supposed to play a decisive role

This hyper-sophisticated atomic power station must be the basis of the transition to renewable energy, capable of ensuring France a constant supply of electricity, which is not yet guaranteed with wind or solar power. Germany, which has given up nuclear power, has built its transition on coal; France, like China, the two civilian nuclear powers with the United States, is betting on the atom. With the hope of making this sector profitable by exporting it. Despite the industrial disaster at Flamanville and the Finnish EPR, the current EDF boss Jean-Bernard Lévy has nonetheless won two contracts in the United Kingdom at Hinkley Point. But the French company had to undertake to finance them in part to land the contract with the Chinese CGN, the majority company in Taishan.

What are the other potential outlets?

The UK could build two more. India is studying the purchase and construction of six EPRs, the Czech Republic and Saudi Arabia are also interested. The EPR still has to be competitive. Nuclear power is now preferably available in small, easy-to-build units rather than behemoths such as this plant of the future was designed, already… forty years ago! As green electricity prices tumble, the EPR can no longer even compete. According to the calculations of the Court of Auditors, the current supplied by Flamanville would be more expensive than that of wind or solar. And twice that of a conventional power station.


The European Union yesterday launched its first common debt issue

The famous loan intended to finance the mega recovery plan to 750 billion euros. We will know this afternoon whether this mutualized bond is successful with investors. Brussels plans to raise around 150 billion euros each year until 2026, which will make it one of the biggest borrowers in the euro area.


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