By Brian Wheeler, Associate Editor
The Areva EPR, or Evolutionary Power Reactor, has been criticized by opponents since construction began in 2005 on the Olkiluoto 3 (OL3) reactor in Finland. Despite this, Areva continues to construct new plants worldwide and believes Generation III+ plants can be built, on-time and on-budget. But the completion of OL3 is nearly three years behind schedule and 50 percent over budget.
I spoke with Michael Rencheck, chief operating officer for Areva Inc. Rencheck said the company doesn’t take comfort in the overruns at OL3 and when they look at the schedule, it is not an unexpected schedule for a first-of-a-kind plant build. He said the reactor manufacturer had “bumps and bruises on the first plant,” but they are now capturing lessons learned in a formal program and incorporating them into the design, planning, construction, and startup and operation of new plants.
“We have really progressed a long way from the initial days at Olkiluoto,” he said.
Areva is building four nuclear reactors globally: OL3 in Finland, a third reactor at the Flamanville plant in France and Taishan Units 1 and 2 in China. All are expected to be completed in the 2012 to 2013 timeframe. Despite rumors of further delays at OL3, the main civil engineering work has been completed and all four steam generators have been installed in the reactor building.
Areva has acknowledged the problems at OL3 and is applying lessons learned to cut construction times and, in turn, lower costs. Rencheck said Areva is now using a three-dimensional model of the EPR that uses actual commodities, along with construction times and data based on engineering, planning and installation.
“It is a very powerful tool for to help us look at the implementation of construction techniques and the optimization of how we engineer the plant,” he said.
To help address issues related to incomplete design and engineering work prior to the start of construction, Areva is using these models in projects currently being constructed. For example, at Flamanville it took 47 weeks to complete the nuclear island base mat, the first foundation as workers proceed with build up. At Taishan, workers have cut that time to 10 weeks. Taishan is showing a threefold reduction in the amount of engineering hours needed to complete, too. At 52 percent complete, Taishan 1 and 2 needed 50 percent fewer engineering hours than either Olkiluoto or Flamanville.
“That is all the product of putting these models in place, taking the lessons learned and adopting them,” said Rencheck.
The EPR is now being completed faster than older generation reactors, he said. The Generation II – N4 1,500 MWe reactors built in Germany took anywhere from 103 months to 150 months from first concrete to fuel loading. The Generation II 1,400 MWe reactors were completed no faster than 69 months. Now, after looking into problems at OL3, the 1,650 MWe EPRs in China are due to be completed in 46 months.
“We gain efficiency and do what is best for the area to build the plant,” said Rencheck.
Areva does not modularize everything, one of the lessons learned from the first two plants, Rencheck said. He said that there is less of a need to modularize when you do not have to import components. Areva is performing studies of 500 areas to determine where modularization makes the most sense. Rencheck said the company had approached the first new build with the impression that the global supply chain would be robust enough and found that it was not.
After spending a lot of time at Olkiluoto and Flamanville, Rencheck said Areva feels better about the supply chain now when progressing forward. And with plans to build an EPR in the U.S., Areva wants to localize production wherever possible to eliminate any possible supply chain issues, while providing jobs. And that can be seen with the development of the Areva Newport News manufacturing facility for heavy components. The goal is that 90 percent of the U.S. EPR reactors will be “Made in America” using U.S. workers.
“We still think there are challenges there but we have our internal set-up and processes established,” he said.
Globally, Areva now has around 20 reactors planned for development. Rencheck said Areva is improving the timelines negotiating to finalize deals in the U.K., India and China for Taishan 3 and 4. And in Finland, where they have had to address the majority of these challenges, Areva is looking at the possibility of completing another EPR. Using the lessons learned, Rencheck said he thinks it may give Areva a strong position moving forward.
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