[Decoding] Review of the EPR2 Design: Towards an Optimisation of the Industrial Programme

As France prepares to launch a vast construction program of 6 to 14 EPR2 nuclear reactors, the Interministerial Delegation for New Nuclear Energy (DINN), a newly dedicated administration, has requested work on the maturity of the reactor’s Basic Design. A delay of a few months that could save significant time for the entire project.

In late February, a six-month postponement of the finalisation of the EPR2’s basic design was announced. This decision was the result of joint work between the Interministerial Delegation for New Nuclear Energy (DINN) (see box) and EDF. Joël Barre and Vincent Le Biez, respectively Interministerial Delegate and Deputy to the Delegate, assure in an interview with RGN that this is a reasonable decision to start the EPR2 programme on the best possible track.

“This six-month delay is not critical considering what the EPR2 programme represents for France,” the two men explain. It has been several decades since France has undertaken an industrial project of such ambition, scale, and covering such stakes. The aim is to ensure the decarbonisation of the energy system, electricity supply security, and the competitiveness of the electricity produced for the benefit of consumers. The single pair of EPR2s built at the Penly plant (Seine-Maritime), with the first concrete to be poured around 2027, will already be the “largest construction site in Europe” as presented by EDF, equivalent to that of Hinkley Point C in the United Kingdom.

From this perspective, the New French Nuclear (NNF) programme was submitted to a review mechanism. This is a standard process for major public investment programmes in space and defence sectors. Areas that Joël Barre “knows very well”, as a former Delegate General for Armament and former Deputy Director-General of the National Centre for Space Studies (CNES),

A Multidisciplinary Working Group

Thus, a review group was formed, chaired by Hervé Guillou, former CEO of TechnicAtome and NavalGroup, composed of independent experts from the EPR2 project, mostly external to the EDF group and with industrial experiences in the fields of nuclear, civil engineering, Oil & Gas, and armament. This group provided EDF with a series of recommendations in autumn 2023. They were then validated by a steering committee, chaired by EDF’s CEO Luc Rémont.

The working group also gave its opinion on the design’s maturity and agreed with EDF’s teams that additional work was needed to finalise the basic design of the nuclear island. Vincent Le Biez considers that “this is particularly due to significant design differences between the EPR and EPR2 and consequently the amount of engineering work to be mobilised for the basic design”.

As a result, it was decided to continue this programme review with an addition planned for summer 2024. Its purpose is to decide on the design’s maturity and the proper consideration of recommendations in order to “de-risk” the programme and gain competitiveness.

Economic Optimisation of the Programme

Indeed, EDF’s work also includes an economic aspect with a “competitiveness plan”. This consists of working in partnership with suppliers on optimising the cost and schedule of the programme, by re-examining certain technical specifications, contractual clauses, and execution conditions. For example, this involves the conditions under which EDF receives supplies from subcontractors. This exercise is also expected to conclude by summer 2024.

For Joël Barre, it’s about moving “from a purchasing policy logic to an industrial policy where partnership logic prevails”. To this end, DINN conducted a study in 2023 on the nuclear sector’s state of readiness for the NNF programme, confirming the need to manage these complex interfaces, which have been the cause of many delays for previous EPR projects, and to adopt a more partnership-based approach.

In Search of the Series Effect

A specific exercise concerns the optimisation of the schedule, particularly the construction time, drawing on all the lessons learned from the EPRs built so far. This is a major goal for the future project and construction management, in charge of overseeing new nuclear projects at EDF, as part of the reorganisation of the group’s nuclear activities decided by Luc Rémont.

The aim is indeed to demonstrate that after the first pair of EPR2s, which will be a lead series, the logic of replication is maximised to achieve scale economies leading to a model that is competitive in price and construction time.

It is at the end of these works that it will be possible to pronounce on adherence to the official schedule. This currently envisages the commissioning of the EPR2 in a range between 2035 and 2037, with a degraded scenario in 2038, based on an update of the costing done in 2021.

A study of the option of eight additional EPR2s has been launched within EDF, focusing particularly at this stage on the choice of sites that could accommodate these four additional potential pairs, which should be as close as possible to the first six EPR2s, “in order to fully benefit from the series effect,” observes Joël Barre. ■


BOX: The DINN, a Prime Minister’s Service Dedicated to the French Nuclear Revival

The Interministerial Delegation for New Nuclear Energy (DINN) is a young administration, created in November 2022, to strengthen the state’s monitoring of new nuclear industrial projects on national territory. To this end, the DINN primarily carries out three original missions: the industrial supervision of these projects (which to date include the EPR2 programme, the SMR Nuward project, and the Jules Horowitz research reactor), the mobilisation and coordination of public authorities involved in their implementation (central and devolved administrations), and finally, contributing to public information on their major issues. The DINN currently has about ten collaborators. ■

By Ludovic Dupin and Ilyas Hanine (French Nuclear Energy Society, SFEN)

Image: Penly Nuclear Power Plant, Seine Maritime – @DidierMarc/PWP/EDF