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Troublesome new constructions

Written by  Martin Arnold

Two-thirds of all nuclear power plants currently being built are located in China, India and Russia. In Europe, the construction of the next generation of nuclear power plants has become an adventure with an uncertain outcome as can be seen with the French nuclear power plant Flamanville: there have been construction delays and cost increases in the billions with the third generation EPR pressurised water reactor. And with AREVA, they have the same builder as the Olkiluoto-3 plant in Finland, where costs are also getting out of hand. Flamanville should have been built between 2007 and 2012. Costs were estimated at the start of construction at 3.3 billion euros. They have since risen by their own admission to nearly 11 billion euros, and the plant is not expected to go into operation before 2018. If at all: the French nuclear regulators Autorité de sûreté nucléaire have criticised the concrete mixture for a number of years already. Now the safety inspectors are targeting the steel beams, too. The UK wants to build Hinkley Point C in southwestern England at a record price of 8,000 dollars per kilowatt. This will result in a total cost of close to 12 billion euros. These official estimates are to be compared to other projections, such as those from the EU that start at over 30 billion euros. Various countries are already suing against the subsidies hidden in the package. Due to all of these difficulties, the French energy minister Ségolène Royal at the end of February 2016 hastily extended the operating terms of the 58 nuclear power plants from 40 to 50 years, a practice that is now being followed across Europe and the US. Vendors but also buyers of nuclear power plants generally need an investment guarantee to be able to build a plant in the first place. This is complicated, which is why vendors are joining forces. Large consortia have to behave as partners with governments, which further delays planning. As it seems as though promising projects can only be built in emerging markets such as China and India.

Mycle Schneider, Energy Consultant, Paris, France: "Nuclear energy is no longer competitive"

Bo Qiang Lin, Economist, China: “Do we have an alternative?”