EDF and Areva Urged to Cut Losses, Avoid More Financial Damage From 'Doomed Technology';
Major Implications for U.S. Nuclear Loan Guarantee Program, Which EDF Seeks to Tap for EPR.
WASHINGTON and LONDON, Nov. 4, 2010 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Even if it is propped up with extensive government subsidies or full cost-recovery from ratepayers, the "Evolutionary Power Reactor" (EPR) - which the French government-controlled utility, Electricite de France (EDF) plans to deliver for the troubled Calvert Cliffs-3 project and other sites in the United States - is "in crisis" to such a severe extent that it is likely to be an economic failure, according to a new report released today by University of Greenwich Professor of Energy Studies Stephen Thomas.
The Thomas report findings have special resonance in the U.S. given EDF's attempt to salvage the Calvert Cliffs-3 nuclear reactor project, which is considered a leading candidate for U.S. loan guarantees backed by American taxpayers. In addition to Calvert Cliffs-3 in Maryland, the EPR was selected as the reactor design in the U.S. for Bell Bend in Pennsylvania, Nine Mile Point in New York and Callaway in Missouri (latter two applications currently suspended).
Commenting on the new report, Professor Thomas said: "From a business point of view, the right course for EDF and Areva seems clear. They must cut their losses and abandon the EPR now. In the short-term this will require some painful write-offs, for example, of investments in the UK and the USA, but in the long-term, the losses will be much greater if they continue to try to make the EPR work. Areva's main business is its reactor servicing and fuel activities and these would be little affected by the abandonment of the EPR. EDF already has too much nuclear generating capacity in France, so not ordering more reactors will save it from unnecessary capital expenditure at a time when it acknowledges its debts are too high."
As for recent moves by EDF in the U.S. market, the Thomas report notes: "While the political wrangling about how much Congress will be prepared to allow the US DOE to offer in loan guarantees, the deteriorating prospective economics for new nuclear reactors and the economic risk they pose to their owners may mean that relatively few loan guarantees are granted. The projects most likely to go ahead are those with the 'belt and braces' of Federal loan guarantees and a state regulatory body that commits to allowing the utility to recover its costs from consumers. Calvert Cliffs and Bell Bend would be exposed to the PJM electricity market and therefore could expect no support from the state regulator. If the Calvert Cliffs project does collapse and an existing project, such as Bell Bend cannot be brought in to replace it, it is hard to see how the EPR could survive in the USA."
The Thomas report draws the following major conclusions:
- Construction has "gone dramatically wrong" at both of the sites in Europe where the EPR is currently being built. As Thomas notes: "The two sites in Europe where EPR is under construction, Olkiluoto and Flamanville, have gone dramatically wrong from the start of construction. It might have been argued that the problems at Olkiluoto were due to the lack of experience of the utility and the inexperience of Areva NP in carrying out the architect engineering. However, the fact that EDF, the most experienced nuclear utility in the world seems to be doing no better at Flamanville suggests the main problems are more related to the build-ability of the design itself than to specific issues at Olkiluoto."
- The price at which the EPR is being offered is so high that all contests in which the EPR has been bid have either been abandoned (South Africa and Canada) or the contract has gone to a much lower bid from a competitor (UAE). In the report, Thomas explains: "As early as 1995 and again in 1997, there were concerns about the cost of the EPR then expected to be US$2000/kW but when other vendors began to claim they could build plants for US$1000/kW, [Areva] seems to have felt obliged to follow suit. While it did not claim US$1000/kW was possible, it did claim reactors could be built for less than US$1500/kW in 1998 and 2001, less than a quarter of the prices it is now offering a decade later. At US$6000/kW or more, it seems unlikely that EPR will be affordable except where huge public subsidies are offered and/or there is a strong likelihood of full cost recovery from consumers, no matter what the cost is."
- Potential markets such as the USA, UK and Italy all look problematic. Reactor orders, if placed at all, will be much later than expected. The Thomas report explains: "As the reality of these high costs hits home, it is likely that even markets in which government support for new nuclear orders has been strongest, such as the USA and UK, will find it difficult to support the costs."
- The process of obtaining safety approval in France, UK and the USA is incomplete and, even if successful, the features needed to achieve regulatory approval may add significantly to costs. The Thomas report points out: "The intuitively plausible notion that a new generation of nuclear reactors, starting without a blank sheet of paper could easily come up with a more rational and cheaper, yet safer design of reactor has been shown to be an illusion by the lengthy and still incomplete process of gaining safety approval. The Finnish and French authorities' decision to allow construction to start before full generic approval had been given looks particularly ill-judged."
Professor Thomas said: "From a political point of view, France has invested so much political and financial capital in being the world leader in nuclear technology, such a decision to abandon the design will be politically too painful until it becomes unavoidable. However, for the governments of countries like the USA and the UK, which have invested little political capital in the French nuclear dream, the sensible course is clear: stop all investment of public money in the doomed EPR technology."
Professor Thomas is the author of "Areva and EDF: Business Prospects and Risks in Nuclear Energy" (March 2009) and the co-author of "The Financial Crisis and Nuclear Power" (February 2009). He has been a researcher in energy policy for more than 25 years. Professor Thomas writes particularly on economics and policy towards nuclear power, liberalization and privatization of the electricity and gas industries and trade policy on network energy industries. He is a member of the editorial boards of: Energy Policy; Utility Policy; Energy and Environment; and International Journal of Regulation and Governance.
EDITOR'S NOTE: A streaming audio replay of the news event will be available on the Web at http://188.8.131.52/EPRreport.html as of 3 p.m. EDT/7 p.m. GMT on November 4, 2010.
SOURCE Stephen Thomas, professor of energy studies, University of Greenwich