The AREVA EPR is one of the three contenders listed in the Ontario RFP and perhaps, a candidate for the reactors under discussion in Alberta and Saskatchewan and maybe for new reactors at Bruce Power if that occurs. The second New Brunswick reactor will undoubtedly be an AECL product, most likely the first ACR-1000 but I can only hope they will choose an EC-6.
So what does EPR stand for? Well strangely enough it means one thing in Europe (European Pressurized Reactor) and another in the US (Evolutionary Pressurized Reactor) although apparently they are talking about exactly the same reactor design. Apparently, the AREVA marketing department has concluded that confusion might still arise and they push the expression “US EPR” to drive the point home that their reactor is not merely a European artefact. It’s not clear what they believe is the best name choice for Canada.
That may be typical of government owned companies. Well over 80% of AREVA is owned by the government of France with some minority interest by Siemens and others. From recent episodes concerning takeover bids for other companies and the recent announcement of a second EPR for France, it’s clear that the CEO of AREVA takes direction on important issues directly from the President of France. One would think that fact alone might hamper AREVA’s reactor sales in the United States but probably not in Canada where we are more accustomed to state-owned companies such as AECL for example.
Most of the power reactors in France are actually Westinghouse designs but the last four French reactors completed by 2000 were designed by Framatome (since absorbed into AREVA) and form AREVA’s main experience in reactor design with a lesser contribution from Siemens experience with German reactors in the more distant past.
The EPR is a light (ordinary) water reactor using it both for moderation and coolant. Its fuel is enriched uranium with up to 5% uranium-235. In those respects, it is generically similar to its Westinghouse rival, the AP1000. However, one area in which it is very different is its power output, 1,600 MW (e) (electrical) compared to a powers of about 1,100 MW (e) for the AP1000 and 1,050 MW (e) for the AECL ACR-1000. The EPR is a more powerful unit than its rivals which is advantageous in terms of brute power production but could be a disadvantage in flexibility for deployment on the Ontario grid where an EPR would roughly be the equivalent of two Darlington reactors.
In my opinion the design appears to have become overly complex by attempting to address a great many issues at the same time. For example, it has a complex containment system consisting of a steel shell attached to a concrete shell presumably to harden the reactor against an aircraft strike. By now even the least sophisticated terrorists have realized that driving an aircraft into a reactor containment structure is unlikely to lead to the havoc they would wish to create. In some sense the old aphorism that “generals always prepare for the last war” seems to apply to the EPR.
To counter an accident in which a hot reactor core of molten fuel might burrow into the earth, the notorious “China Syndrome”, the EPR has a “core catcher” consisting of a concrete basin specially designed to prevent this happening. Other features are separate compartments for the heat transport (coolant) pumps and a pool of water at the base of the reactor.
It seems that these special features may have caused some of the delays and cost overruns experienced during the construction of the first EPR at Olkiluoto, Finland which is already 25-50% over budget and more than two years behind schedule. Problems in welding the steel containment shell and pouring concrete to the required specifications for the core catcher are reported to have been problems. The second EPR being built at Flamanville Normandy is also having some construction problems but apparently less severe than in Finland showing that AREVA is well on the learning curve.
Difficulties in constructability are just one class of the teething problems to be expected in bringing any new complex engineering design into operation and probably will be typical of all three of the so-called Generation 3 reactors under consideration in Canada. The AREVA projects are simply the furthest along whereas the first AP1000 has just started construction and the ACR-1000 has at least another four years to go before a construction start can be made.
Although I have my own personal misgivings, the EPR would likely prove to be an adequate reactor for use in Canada.