US EPR plans suspended

06 March 2015

Areva Inc has asked the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to suspend work on the design certification of the US EPR until further notice, prompting Unistar Nuclear Energy to request the suspension of the review of its construction and operation licence (COL) application for Calvert Cliffs 3.

In a letter dated 25 February, Areva Inc formally requested that the NRC suspend the safety review of the US EPR design certification application until further notice. Asking the regulator to suspend work on all submittals in active review "in an efficient and expeditious manner" the company also requested that the regulator post no new charges to the US EPR design certification docket after 27 March.

US EPR (Image: NRC)

Areva Inc's request to the NRC was made days before French parent company Areva announced record losses for 2014 of €4.83 billion ($5.38 billion). The company is to embark on a three-year financing plan to achieve savings of around €1 billion ($1.1 billion). Areva Inc spokesman Curtis Roberts confirmed to World Nuclear News that the suspension of the design certification project was one outcome of the comprehensive review underpinning the company's global transformation plan.

Areva Inc has not defined an end date for the suspension, but Roberts emphasised that the action does not signal a withdrawal of its commitment to build new nuclear plants in the USA. "Despite the national focus on developing a low-carbon energy vision, the US market for expanding low-carbon nuclear energy generation is not materializing at the rate previously anticipated. By choosing to transition the US EPR design certification project into a suspended status, we maintain the option to quickly allow the US EPR design to proceed to certification rulemaking, once further funding is approved," he said.

Announcing Areva's group results earlier this week, CEO Philippe Knoche said that the company planned to emphasise growth in China, which he described as the "new frontier" of global nuclear power.

France has a long history of nuclear collaboration with China. The country's first nuclear power plant, Daya Bay, employs French pressurized water reactors (PWRs), as does Ling Ao Phase I, and the French units provided the basis from which many of China's own PWR designs have been developed. Two EPR units are already under construction at Taishan in China, with work due to begin on a further two units at the same site over the next few years. However, apart from those units, China's extensive nuclear construction plans going forward do not at present feature the EPR.

Calvert Cliffs 3 COL on hold

Two days after Areva Inc's request to suspend the design certification review, EDF-owned Unistar Nuclear Energy also wrote to the NRC to request the suspension of review activities for its COL application for Calvert Cliffs 3. As the Calvert Cliffs 3 COL application references the US EPR design certification the NRC would not be able to approve or issue it before the reactor design certification is approved and issued.

Unistar Nuclear Energy was founded by EDF and US company Constellation Energy in 2007. The company submitted its initial COL application for Calvert Cliffs 3 to the NRC in July 2007, the first COL application to be lodged for any reactor. However, when Constellation pulled out of Unistar in 2010 the company became wholly owned by EDF. US regulations prohibit wholly foreign-owned companies from obtaining an operating licence for US nuclear plants, and as a result the Calvert Cliffs 3 COL application review has been on partial hold since then.

The US EPR is based on the EPR pressurized water reactor currently under construction in France and Finland and planned for construction at Hinkley Point C in the UK. The reactor had been earmarked for construction at several US sites, but all COL applications referencing it have now been withdrawn or are suspended. Unistar withdrew an application for a planned US EPR at Nine Mile Point in New York in 2013, while AmerenUE suspended an application for Callaway 2 in Missouri in 2009 citing financing problems. PPL's COL application for Bell Bend in Pennsylvania was suspended in 2014.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News