EDF announces new delay and higher costs for Flamanville 3 reactor

Steam rises from a cooling tower of the Electricite de France (EDF) nuclear power station in Civaux, France, October 8, 2021. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe/File Photo

PARIS, Jan 12 (Reuters) - France's Flamanville 3 reactor will cost 300 million euros more than forecast and fuel loading is being pushed back by up to six months, EDF (EDF.PA) said on Wednesday, in the latest setback for a project already running more than a decade late.

EDF now estimates the total cost of the project at 12.7 billion euros ($14.42 billion). Its expected cost has more than quadrupled from the first estimate made in 2004.

Fuel loading at the Flamanville 3 EPR reactor, which was earlier scheduled for end-2022, has been pushed back to the second quarter of 2023.

"EDF has adjusted the schedule for the Flamanville 3 project, taking into account the state of progress of the operations and the preparation for start-up in an industrial context made more difficult by the pandemic," the company said.

It added the main reason for the delay was faulty welds, which will be fixed by the end of August rather than by the end of April, as previously expected.

The group said separate reparation works on the penetration welds on the reactor building had been successfully completed and deemed compliant by French nuclear regulator ASN.

EDF shares were down 0.8% at 1223 GMT.

Louis Boujard, an analyst at brokerage ODDO BHF, said this could be the "last bad news" about Flamanville.

"We knew Flamanville was going to be very difficult to launch by the end of 2022," he told Reuters. "It was logically delayed and now the uncertainty around the calendar is far, far smaller, so in that sense it's rather good news."

The government said it would ensure EDF "draws the right lessons from the Flamanville problems". read more

President Emmanuel Macron, ahead of elections in the spring, wants new reactors to be built in France to help the country cut its dependence on foreign energy supplies, meet global warming targets and keep a lid on energy prices.

Energy costs have been surging across Europe this winter, pressuring governments. read more

It is not yet known how new reactors in France will be financed, nor which type will be picked. read more

The EPR, EDF's next-generation nuclear reactor, has sustained multiple delays and cost overruns elsewhere in the world.

In its statement on Wednesday, EDF said inspections of fuel assemblies at its Taishan 1 EPR reactor in China showed "mechanical wear of certain assembly components", which had already been observed on several of its French reactors.

"Taishan shows there are a few corrections, a few adaptations, to be made, but in no way does it question the EPR (as a whole)", EDF's head of new nuclear projects Xavier Ursat told a news conference.

China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN), which operates the Taishan plant with EDF, shut down one of its reactors in August to investigate fuel damage, after EDF said it was examining a potential issue linked to a build-up of radioactive gases.

Its other EPR site, in Finland at Olkiluoto 3, started critical functions last month after multi-year delays and cost overruns. read more

($1 = 0.8806 euros)

Reporting by Benoit Van Overstraeten, Benjamin Mallet and Sarah Morland; Writing by Benoit Van Overstraeten and Gwladys Fouche; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Jan Harvey

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