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CORRECTED-China begins fuel loading at long-delayed EPR nuclear project

(Corrects days in paragraphs 2,3 and 4)

SHANGHAI, April 11 (Reuters) - China has begun loading fuel at its first European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) unit in the southeastern province of Guangdong, developer China General Nuclear Power (CGN) said, a sign that the long-delayed project could finally be close to completion.

CGN, which owns 70 percent of the project, said in a notice on its official Wechat account that it was given formal approval to begin fuel loading at Unit 1 of the Taishan project by the National Nuclear Safety Commission on Tuesday.

Fuel loading at the site began late on Tuesday evening following a ceremony. The procedure takes several months, meaning the reactor could go into full operation and be connected to the grid before the end of the year.

The nuclear safety commission also confirmed in a notice on its website on Wednesday that it had given the go-ahead, saying it will become the world’s first EPR to go into operation.

China began building the EPR in Taishan in 2009, with the first of two units originally scheduled to be completed in 2013. French utility EDF controls 30 percent of the project.

The third-generation EPR technology was designed by France’s Areva, but has been subject to repeated delays, technical problems and cost overruns not only in China, but also at other sites in France and Finland.

Britain’s Hinkley Point C reactor, jointly invested by CGN and EDF, will also use the EPR design.

China’s energy regulator said last month that it expected the first Taishan EPR to be completed this year, along with the Westinghouse-designed AP1000 reactor in Sanmen in Zhejiang province, which is also more than three years behind schedule.

Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Sunil Nair