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World's 1st EPR reactor goes online at Chinese nuclear plant

SNL Image

The construction site of France's first new EPR in Flamanville, France, in 2009. The plant was originally scheduled to become operational in 2012.
Source: Associated Press

China General Nuclear Power Corp. and Electricité de France SA have brought the world's first next-generation European Pressurized Reactor online at the Taishan nuclear power plant in China.

The first of two 1,750-MW units at the plant entered commercial operation Dec. 13 after completing a 168-hour trial run, the two state-owned companies said in a news release. Developed through a joint venture between China General, EDF and regional Chinese utility Yuedian, who respectively own 51%, 30% and 19% of the project, its commissioning is a significant milestone for the nascent EPR technology.

Several reactors using the design are under construction in Europe and all of them, in France, the U.K. and Finland, have been delayed for years.

"As the world's first EPR project, Taishan offers valuable lessons and solutions for the construction of similar reactors worldwide and it will play a demonstrative and supportive role in the joint construction of the Hinkley Point C project in the U.K.," said He Yu, the chairman of China General Nuclear Power Group.

The reactor design by EDF-owned Framatome, formerly Areva, is alternatively known as an Evolutionary Power Reactor.

The Taishan plant, in the southwest of China's Guangdong province, is the biggest energy cooperation project to date between China and France and will generate up to 24 TWh of electricity a year, the companies said.

EDF and China General have been building two EPRs at Hinkley Point C in Somerset since 2016 and are also planning a follow-up project in Suffolk, Sizewell C, in a reversed joint-venture setup with EDF as a majority stakeholder. Construction on that plant could start in 2021, according to EDF, while Hinkley Point is not scheduled to come online before 2025. Another planned U.K. project by the two companies, at Bradwell in Essex, will use China's Hualong One reactor design.

EDF has also been building an EPR at its Flamanville plant in France and Teollisuuden Voima Oyj is constructing one at the Olkiluoto plant Finland, both of which are now expected to become operational in 2020. All three projects have been plagued by years of construction delays and severe cost overruns.

Construction on the two units at Taishan kicked off in 2009 and was originally scheduled to finish in 2013, but the reactor faced similar technical problems and cost increases.

EDF will have to retire up to 14 of its nuclear plants in France by 2035 under the French government's recently released energy strategy, which will see nuclear's share in the power mix reduced from over 70% to 50%. The utility's chairman and CEO, Jean-Bernard Lévy, has previously suggested that the company wants to build more new plants in France, but the government has postponed any decision on the topic until 2021.

"The Taishan project ... illustrates our approach to developing EPRs worldwide, in cooperation with valued partners such as CGN," Lévy said.