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Flamanville defects could delay Hinkley Point project

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DEFECTS discovered in a nuclear reactor 22 miles from Jersey’s east coast are threatening to delay one of Europe’s largest construction projects.

Flamanville l with Port Dielette in the background

Last month, energy giant EDF announced that it had discovered problems with welding in 150 areas of pipework used at the £9.2 billion Flamanville facility on the Normandy coast – now running around six years behind schedule and three times over budget.

The company has now ordered a review into the causes and nature of the deficiencies to allow it to decide what action to take next.

However, reports in the national media are now questioning whether the outcome of the report could potentially affect and further delay the UK’s £19.5 billion Hinkley Point C project, currently being built in Somerset.

In an opinion piece, Alistair Osbourne, business commentator for The Times, remarked on the issues which have plagued the Normandy project.

‘The 1,650 megawatt European pressurised reactor is a mere six years late and three times over budget. And all the more exciting for it being the prototype for an even bigger nuclear disaster: the £20 billion, 3,200MW Hinkley Point C,’ he said.

‘Still, forget about that for a sec. At least the French nuclear guinea pig is finally on its home run, due to be loaded up with nuclear fuel in the last quarter of this year. Always assuming one thing: that EDF can sort out the dodgy welding on the cooling pipes and stuff.’

It is hoped that the similar Hinkley Point C twin-reactor facility, which is also running a number of years behind schedule, will one day generate seven per cent of the UK’s total energy requirements.

It is not the first issue originating from the Flamanville plant to affect Hinkley Point.

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In 2015, it was revealed that excess carbon had been discovered in the new, non-active reactor vessel at the French plant.

A subsequent investigation found a raft of quality-control failings at the site where the reactor vessel had been forged and also uncovered falsified documents relating to its manufacture.

As both facilities are using the same type of new technology, the UK’s office for Nuclear regulation launched a review of EDF’s Hinkley Point supply chain which raised a number of concerns.

It revealed that although it was ‘broadly satisfied’ with the manufacturer’s processes, the forge’s owner, NNB GenCo, was unable to provide evidence to demonstrate how it has learnt from its previous failings regarding falsified paperwork.

The company is now hoping that the Flamanville plant will be operational by the end of 2018, should there not be any further issues.

Speaking to French media, the facility’s director this month confirmed that a number of welds on the reactor’s three to four centimetre-thick pipes would need to be re-done but that the work is expected to be completed by the end of May.

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