EDF to redesign UK’s flagship nuclear reactors after China shutdown

The power company charged with driving Britain’s nuclear revolution must overhaul the design of its flagship new reactor to avoid a repeat of the fuel rod damage that forced a unit in China to close.

EDF plans to prevent malfunctions in the future by modifying the support of the rods. It is also investigating potential changes involving cooling waters to alleviate the problem.

The French public company is building the UK’s first nuclear power station for a generation, Hinkley Point C, in Somerset. It is also in advanced talks with the government on the development of a second station, Sizewell C, in Suffolk.

Both reactors use new EPR technology developed by EDF which was first deployed at a Taishan plant in China, developed with its partner China General Nuclear.

One of the plant’s two reactors is still shut down after being taken out of service last July due to fuel damage, less than three years after it was commissioned. Chinese regulators are believed to be reviewing plans to restart the unit.

EDF and its EPR reactor designs are coming under increasing scrutiny as governments scramble to find new sources of clean energy and reduce their dependence on Russian gas.

A second EPR opened in March in Olkiluoto, Finland, more than 10 years behind schedule, while a third EPR in Flamanville, France is also heavily delayed.

A Hinkley Point C spokesperson said the issue with the fuel assemblies at Taishan had been “investigated and understood”.

She said: “A detailed solution has been identified by Framatome and will be implemented for Hinkley Point C and Sizewell C.

“We are confident this will be effective as it is based on a detailed understanding of the problem and operational experience from existing power stations including Sizewell B in Britain.

“[…] As a prudent operator, we will investigate all potential alternative mitigation measures and share this information with the nuclear regulator.

A spokesman for Britain’s Office of Nuclear Regulatory (ONR) said it had been in regular contact with counterparts in France, Finland and China over the Taishan issues.

He added: “The knowledge gained from this issue will be used to inform ONR regulation of nuclear power stations in the UK, such as Hinkley Point C, where the EPR reactor will be installed.

“As we expect from any licensee, all options are being considered to meet Taishan’s operational experience and any new proposals for change, submitted to the ONR, would be rigorously evaluated by ourselves in due course before that any approval be granted for them to be implemented.”

The ONR said there was “more than enough time” for EDF to make changes to Hinkley based on lessons from Taishan.

Hinkley Point C is not expected to start production in June 2027. Last week, EDF said it had asked for leeway in its subsidy contract in the event of a further delay.

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