Tucked neatly at the base of a seaside cliff on the Normandy coast, in northwestern France, and alongside two more mature looking domed nuclear reactor buildings, EDF’s flagship ERP nuclear project is a hive of construction activity.
The 1 650 MW development is running behind schedule, its budget has been revised upwards to €10.5-billion, while stresses at the French utility itself, reportedly associated with the financing of Hinkley Point C ERP project in the UK, have been blamed for the recent high-profile departure of its CFO Thomas Piquemal.
Nevertheless, there is still a strong sense that Flamanville 3, which will be the utility’s fifty-ninth nuclear power station in France, will yet emerge as its premier plant when it begins operating towards the end of 2018.
This optimism stems partly from the fact the EPR is EDF’s most advanced pressurised water reactor (PWR) design. The third-generation reactor is being built to produce more electricity than previous generations, such as the two 900 MW PWR reactors that comprise the Koeberg nuclear power station in Cape Town.
The solution embraces quadruple system redundancy, as well as a double reactor shell, making it impenetrable even to an aircraft flying directly into its domed roof. It also incorporates a core catcher, designed to contain and cool any “core melt” that could arise in the event of catastrophic meltdown.
As site planning director Antoine Ménager explained during a recent briefing of South African media during a project tour: “We can operate the plant with only one of these systems, but we have four”.
Flamanville 3 will also incorporate, from day one, a Local Crisis Centre, which was conceived in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima disaster, in Japan. The building will be able to withstand extreme events and serve as a base from which disaster response teams will operate and be coordinated. Similar centres are planned for all of EDF’s other nuclear facilities in the coming years.
The utility’s sanguinity also stems, it seems, from the fact that lessons drawn from Flamanville 3’s difficult construction phase have been incorporated at the EPR projects in China, Taishan 1 and 2, being built in partnership with China General Nuclear Power Group. In fact, the Taishan 1 reactor will probably come on line well ahead of Flamanville 3 in early 2017, despite construction having started in 2009.
However, a major part of EDF’s self-assuredness is drawn from the fact that development is proceeding with solid buy-in from surrounding communities, which are accustomed to nuclear in light of the fact that Flamanville 1 and 2 began operating in the mid-1980s.
The utility is also able to point to numerous practical examples of how the project, as well as the existing operations, support local enterprises and sustainable job creation.
Indeed, it is this socioeconomic performance – in particular the platform that has been created for both regional industrialisation and localisation – that EDF and Areva, are keen to highlight ahead of a likely French bid for South Africa’s proposed nuclear programme.
South Africa has indicated that it could seek to build up to 9 600 MW of new nuclear capacity, but has also stressed recently that it will only proceed at a pace and scale that is affordable in the context of weak economic growth, fiscal imbalances and a decline in electricity demand to 2007 levels.
While EDF and Areva both have financial strains of their own, their credentials in the area of localisation are likely to be a key component of their eventual offer to South Africa.
The companies are able to outline in detail the strides made in stimulating local enterprise development and industrialisation not only at the new EPR project, but during the nearly 30 years of operation of Flamanville 1 and 2, as well as Areva’s La Hague spent-fuel recycling and waste management facility in the same part of the country.
Over half of the 4 000 workers involved in the construction of Flamanville 3 have been drawn from the surrounding region, which has also benefited from 58 economic and social infrastructure projects built in direct response to the EPR development.
In addition, a good portion of ongoing orders and capital expenditure from Flamanville 1 and 2 is directed towards surrounding businesses. Likewise, with Areva’s La Hague complex, which has an extensive network into the surrounding region.
Efinor founder and CEO Fabrice Lepotier, whose company offers metalworking services to the Flamanville project, offered testimony into how the emergence of nuclear had supported the development of his own company.
He started the business as 22-year-old with little more than a metalworkers diploma and an aspiration to take advantage of the opportunities arising from the emerging nuclear industry in Flamanville. Today the company employs hundreds of people and turns over tens of millions.
South Africa’s possible nuclear programme, Lepotier argues, is a “great opportunity” for those local firms willing to embrace the rigours of the industry. By so doing, they could also create the basis for diversification into other demanding sectors such as defence and aerospace; industries which Efinor has since entered.
He even expresses a willingness to consider partnering with South African businesses that are ready to make the effort required to meet the stringent conditions of nuclear supply-chain compliance.
“Once a company takes that step, the nuclear industry can provide the basis of a long-term sustainable business and the platform to diversify into other industries that require the same level of rigour,” Lepotier enthuses.
*Terence Creamer is in France as a guest of the French government.