Energy crisis: EDF forced to redesign UK reactors after horror leaks at Chinese sites

EU on track for nightmare energy ‘rationing’ ahead of cold winter

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The company announced that it would change the way fuel rods are held in place in their flagship new EPR generators, following reports of fuel cell damage that forced a nuclear power plant with the same design in China to shut down. Last year, state owned China General Nuclear (CGN) announced that the EPR reactor at the Taishan plant, about 80 miles west of Hong Kong, was shut down for “maintenance” after cracks in the fuel rods were discovered.

In a statement in Chinese on its website, CGN said: “A small amount of fuel damage has occurred during the operation of Unit 1, but it is still within the allowable range of technical specifications, and the unit can continue to operate stably.

“Combined with the start of construction of the power grid … we chose this time to shut down for maintenance.“

EDF, along with CGN as a junior partner, is currently building the Hinkley Point C reactor in Somerset and is currently negotiating plans to build a second station, Sizewell C in Suffolk, both of which use the same EPR reactor design.

As the UK invests heavily in nuclear energy in a bid to end its reliance on fossil fuels, EDF’s EPR reactors have come under increased scrutiny.

An EPR reactor in Olkiluoto, Finland was finally opened in March after a decade long delay, while another reactor in Flamanville, France, is also facing similar setbacks.

Meanwhile, Hinkley Point C, which was set to come online in June 2026, has been delayed by a whole year on account of Covid-19 delays.

A Hinkley Point C spokesman said THAT the problem with fuel assemblies at Taishan had been “investigated and is 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 that this will be effective as it is based on a detailed understanding of the issue and operational experience at existing power stations, including Sizewell B in Britain.

“[…] As a prudent operator, we will investigate all potential alternative mitigations and share that information with the nuclear regulator.”

A spokesman for the UK’s Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) noted that it had been in frequent contact with counterparts in France, Finland and China over the Taishan fuel rods issues.

He added: “The knowledge gained from this issue will be used to help inform ONR’s regulation of nuclear plants in the UK, like Hinkley Point C, where the EPR reactor will be installed.

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

The ONR added that there was “more than sufficient time” for EDF to make any changes to Hinkley based on lessons from Taishan.

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