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Flamanville-3 / Fuel Loading Begins At France’s Delayed EPR Nuclear Power Plant

By Rumyana Vakarelska
9 May 2024

Normandy reactor, which is 12 years behind schedule and well over budget, could now start up for first time in mid-2024

Fuel Loading Begins At France’s Delayed EPR Nuclear Power Plant
EDF expects Flamanville-3 (first in view) to be connected to the national grid this summer and reach full power by the end of the year. Courtesy EDF.

French state-owned nuclear power company EDF announced that it started fuel loading on Wednesday (8 May) at the 1,650-MW Flamanville-3 EPR reactor located in the province of Normandy in northern France.

The start of fuel loading came a day after French nuclear regulator, the ASN, gave permission for fuel loading and startup procedures to begin at Flamanville-3.

The delayed and overbudget Flamanville-3 will now move to an extended startup period lasting for several months, EDF said in the statement.

It added that the fuel loading process, of 241 fuel assemblies, will take several days to complete.

It also noted that the start-up of the unit would be done in full coordination with the ASN and that it would comprise a series of tests of the reactor and subsequent analysis of the results of these tests by EDF and the regulator.

The construction of Flamanville-3’s started in 2007 and the reactor had been initially expected to be completed in 2012.

The unit is currently 12 years overdue and the expected final construction costs of the unit have already risen from an initial estimate of €3.3 billion ($3.56 billion) to over €13.2 billion.

Multiple factors have contributed to the delays and cost overruns at Flamanville-3, but a French report into the project in 2019 noted that several elements of the project’s construction had been launched prior to the completion of the reactor’s design, leading to certain sections of the work having to be demolished and rebuilt.

The ASN said in a separate statement on 7 May that after fuel loading, the ASN will continue to monitor Flamanville-3's operations during the pre-critical phase, before a nuclear chain reaction begins in the unit’s core.

This monitoring will look primarily at whether the safety circuits are operating correctly. The regulator will subsequently have to approve the start of nuclear fission and the staged increase in operational power to 25% and then 80% of the unit’s total capacity.

There are three EPR units in commercial operation globally – two are at the Taishan nuclear station in China and one at the Olkiluoto nuclear station in Finland. Additionally, there are two EPR units under construction at Hinkley Point C in the UK’s southwestern county of Somerset.

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