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FLAMANVILLE, France, July 22 (UPI) — French utility EDF this week announced more delays in its plans to construct one of the biggest nuclear power facilities in the world at Flamanville.

EDF’s 1,650-megawatt Flamanville 3 nuclear reactor was already two years behind schedule and $2.4 billion over budget before Wednesday’s announcement, in which the utility says it needs to carry out tougher safety inspections in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.

Citing “structural and economic reasons” for the new delays, the state-owned company sent notice its flagship plant’s costs will increase to $9 billion due to the new requirements while its opening has been pushed back to 2016.

The utility noted there were two fatal accidents at the work site, “including one that partially suspended the civil works for many weeks,” and thus work on the project was slowed in the first half of 2011.

Also, it said, it will carry out a “comprehensive analysis” of Flamanville’s safety audits and submit the results to the French Nuclear Safety Authority by September.

The latest cost overruns and delays are a blow to the French company and its hopes for the worldwide commercialization of a new type of nuclear reactor, known as a European Pressurized Reactor, manufactured by the French nuclear group Areva.

It also comes at a tricky time politically for French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose strongly pro-nuclear stance is coming under attack by his Socialist and Green Party political opponents as the parties prepare for next year’s presidential elections.

Sarkozy last month committed to a $1.5 billion investment in France’s nuclear power industry at a time when some other European countries have placed moratoriums on new plants and a major poll indicates French public opinion has turned against it.

He said he intends to beef up nuclear safety research and development in a move meant to assure the public nuclear energy is safe and reliable after Fukushima but critics contend the nuclear lobby of EDF, Areva and its unions is preventing the country from joining Germany in phasing out nuclear power and putting more emphasis on renewable energy.

Cecile Duflot, national secretary of the French Green Party, said last month her party is demanding that a commitment to phase out all nuclear power — as well as to immediately close all nuclear plant more than 30 years old — be part of any alliance it forges with the Socialists for next year’s elections.

EDF operates 58 nuclear reactors in France, which provide more than 74 percent of the country’s power, as well as 16 in Britain. Progress on its new EPR is being closely monitored because of its plans to build four identical ones in Britain, the New Civil Engineer trade magazine reported.

The publication said EDF originally planned to start building the new British fleet of EPRs in 2012 to 2013 and have them operational by the end of 2017.

The Flamanville EPR and another in Finland — which is also facing delays and cost overruns — were the targets of criticism this spring by environmentalists who demanded France reexamine its power generation priorities.

Greenpeace on May 4 blocked the construction of the Flamanville work site, claiming to have anchored two trucks to the ground, blockaded the entrance and scaled construction cranes.

Source: United Press International (UPI).


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