The world’s nuclear power industry has been busy in the new year, with several construction projects reaching key milestones as 2018 began.

EPR Units Making Progress

Four EPR nuclear units are under construction in three countries: Olkiluoto 3 in Finland began construction in August 2005, Flamanville 3 in France began construction in December 2007, and Taishan 1 and 2 in China began construction in November 2009. Each of the new units is behind schedule and over budget, but recent progress may signal an end to some of the construction difficulties.

EDF reported that cold functional tests were completed at Flamanville 3 on January 6. The main purpose of the testing was to confirm the integrity of primary systems, and verify that components important to reactor safety were properly installed and ready to operate. More than 500 welds were inspected while pressure was held greater than 240 bar (3,480 psi) during the hydrostatic testing, which was conducted under the supervision of the French Nuclear Safety Authority.

With cold testing successfully completed, EDF can now begin preparing for hot functional tests, which verify equipment performance under normal operating temperatures and pressures. Hot testing is expected to begin in July, with fuel loading and reactor startup possible by year end. The company also reported that the total cost for the unit is projected to be €10.5 billion (in 2015 Euros, excluding interim interest).

Olkiluoto 3 began hot functional testing in December. Teollisuuden Voima Oyj—owner and operator of the site—expects the unit to produce its first power by the end of this year, with commercial operation now slated to begin in May 2019.

Although work on Taishan 1 began years after Olkiluoto 3 and Flamanville 3, it is the furthest along of the EPR units. Reports surfaced on January 2 that China General Nuclear (CGN) had completed hot functional testing on Taishan 1, and that the company expects the unit to be the first EPR to startup. CGN said Taishan 1 would begin commercial operation later this year, with Taishan 2 following in 2019.

Hualong One Steam Generators Installed

Another Chinese project reached a notable milestone on January 8. China National Nuclear Corp. announced the third of three steam generators had been installed at the Hualong One demonstration project, which is being constructed as Unit 5 at the Fuqing nuclear power plant.

The Hualong One pressurized water reactor unit, also known as the HPR 1000, is a domestically developed design based on a French predecessor. It has a 1,090 MW capacity. The steam generators reportedly weigh 365 metric tons and stand more than 21 meters tall. The first steam generator was installed at Fuqing 5 on November 10, with the second placed on Christmas Eve.

Barakah Switchyard Energized

In the United Arab Emirates, more progress has been made on the four South Korean–designed APR-1400 units under construction at the Barakah nuclear power plant. On January 4, Emirates Nuclear Energy Corp. (ENEC) announced that the switchyard for Units 3 and 4 had been energized and connected to the power grid. Unit 2’s main power transformer, excitation transformer, and auxiliary power transformer were also energized in preparation for hot functional testing on that unit.

“These milestones are a result of our extensive collaboration with our Prime Contractor and Joint Venture partner, the Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO),” ENEC CEO Mohamed Al Hammadi said in a press release. “Working together and benefitting from the experience gained when conducting the same work on Unit 1, the teams continue to make significant progress while continuing to implement the highest international standards of safety, security and quality.”

In 2017, ENEC and KEPCO achieved several construction milestones including installation and concrete pouring for the reactor containment building liner dome section on Unit 3, and installation of the reactor containment liner plate rings, reactor vessel, steam generators, and condenser on Unit 4.

Construction began on the four units (Figure 1) in July 2012, May 2013, September 2014, and September 2015, respectively. Unit 1 is currently undergoing commissioning and testing activities while awaiting regulatory review and receipt of the unit’s operating license from the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation. According to ENEC, Unit 2 is 90% complete, Unit 3 is 79% complete, and Unit 4 is 60% complete.

1. This image from September 2017 shows the significant progress that has been made at the Barakah nuclear power plant construction site. Courtesy: ENEC

VVER Units Power Up

On December 29, Russia’s latest reactor to commence operation—Rostov 4 near the city of Volgodonsk—reached criticality and was operated at its minimum controlled reactor power (MCRP). Criticality is a term used in the nuclear industry to indicate that each fission event in the reactor is releasing a sufficient number of neutrons to sustain an ongoing series of reactions, which means the neutron population is constant and the chain reaction is stable.

“The transfer to the MCRP allows [specialists] to carry out all necessary physical experiments in the critical condition of [the] reactor unit (RU) to prove its design criteria,” Aleksey Deriy, vice president of Russian projects for ASE Engineering Co., said in a press release. “Upon the results of the experiments the specialists will decide on the RU powerup.”

Rostov 4 is a VVER-1000 reactor with a capacity of 1,000 MW. The site is home to three other VVER units: Unit 1 began commercial operation in 2001, Unit 2 in 2010, and Unit 3 in 2015.

The following day, another VVER-1000 reactor began supplying power to the Chinese power grid. Construction on the Tianwan 3 nuclear power plant (NPP), located in Lianyungang prefecture, Jiangsu province, began in December 2012.

“The power start-up of the third unit of the Tianwan NPP is an event of worldwide importance and the next stage in strengthening Russian-Chinese cooperation. Construction of the third and fourth power units of the Tianwan NPP are being implemented in record-breaking time and can be considered examples of excellent international cooperation in the energy field,” ROSATOM’s First Deputy Director General for Corporate Development and International Business Kirill Komarov said in a press release.

The next step for Tianwan 3 will involve holding reactor power at 200 MW for a period, followed by dynamic tests carried out at 50%, 75%, and 100% of full capacity. Upon successful completion of initial testing at 100% thermal capacity, demonstration testing will proceed at nominal capacity for 100 hours, after which preliminary acceptance procedures will ensue. Preliminary acceptance is the starting point of a two-year warranty period for the unit.

Progress Made on Demonstration Reactors

China Nuclear Industry 23 Construction Co. Ltd. (CNI23) announced that it had installed the pressure vessel head on the first of two high-temperature gas-cooled reactor units that make up the demonstration HTR-PM plant under construction at Shidaowan in China’s Shandong province. CNI23 claims the HTR-PM unit is the world’s first Gen IV reactor to have its head installed.

Work began on the demonstration unit, which features two small reactors and a turbine, in December 2012. The plant’s twin HTR-PM reactors will drive a single 210 MW turbine. The demonstration HTR-PM is expected to be connected to the grid and start generating electricity later this year.

Another demonstration project also got underway in China. Construction of a 600 MW fast reactor at Xiapu, Fujian province, officially began on December 29 with the pouring of the first concrete for the reactor’s basemat. The reactor is scheduled to begin commercial operation by 2023.

Aaron Larson, executive editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine)