France delays new generation nuclear plant

July 20, 2011 - 11:43 AM

PARIS (AP) — France's electricity giant announced Wednesday it is delaying its new generation nuclear reactor for two years after a pair of deadly accidents and safety reviews prompted by the disaster at Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi plant.

The setback to the showcase EPR reactor in Flamanville in western France hits a country that is one of the world's loudest proponents of nuclear energy, at a time when some governments are rethinking their commitment to atomic power in the wake of Japan's lingering troubles.

Electricite de France, the world's largest nuclear plant operator, says the reactor at Flamanville will go online in 2016 instead of 2014, and will cost some euro6 billion ($8.5 billion)overall instead of the euro5 billion earlier estimated.

The reactor has already faced repeated delays and run billions of euros over budget.

EDF said in a statement Wednesday that two accidents had caused it to reorganize its construction planning. One accident, in which a worker died after a fall in January, forced civil engineering work to be suspended for nine weeks. The other left one worker dead after a fall in early June. Both are under investigation, EDF said.

The company said another reason for the delay is linked to the accident at Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant following a tsunami in March. EDF and nuclear plant operators around Europe are conducting so-called stress tests of nuclear reactors after the Japanese accident.

"Comprehensive analyses carried out as part of the post-Fukushima safety assessment audits will be submitted to the Nuclear Safety Authority in September," EDF said.

"EDF has had to review its assessment of the extent of the work to be done, particularly in terms of civil engineering," such as iron reinforcements and anchor plates, the statement said.

The EPR, or European Pressurized Reactor, has been decades in the making. The first one, being built by French manufacturer Areva, is under construction in Olkiluoto, Finland. It, too, has been plagued by delays. Others are planned in China, Britain and the United States.

Explosions and radiation leaks at Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi plant in March have eroded confidence in nuclear power in recent months — confidence that took decades to rebuild following the Soviet Chernobyl disaster in 1986 and the 1979 Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania.

France gets up to 80 percent of its electricity from nuclear power, and French companies Areva and EDF have aggressively marketed nuclear technology around the world.