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Areva requests NRC to suspend US EPR design certification review

The French-owned AREVA nuclear corporation has requested that the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission suspend indefinitely its design certification review of the US Evolutionary Power Reactor (EPR). The February 25, 2015 letter to the NRC was followed by news of AREVA posting a $5.4 billion loss in 2014 due in large part to extensive delays, enormous cost overruns in its EPR construction projects in France and Finland. AREVA further acknowledged the move is prompted by the weakening global business climate for nuclear power. Standard & Poor's has downgraded AREVA's credit rating to non-investment grade junk.

AREVA orginally submitted its EPR design to the NRC for generic approval in 2007. Several US nuclear utilities have submitted applications for combined construction and operation licensing to the federal agency.

Constellation Energy and Electricite de France (EdF) had formed the UniStar Nuclear Energy Corporation to build and operate Calvert Cliffs 3  in Lusby, MD as the lead US pilot project and the Nine Mile Point 3 project in upstate New York. The Calvert Cliffs 3 project was to be a "reference reactor" application for several more EPRs to follow in a significantly streamlined generic licensing process.

Despite receiving roughly $8 billion in federal loan guarantees from the US Department of Energy, Constellation bailed out of the financially dubious project in 2012 leaving EdF, France's state-run nuclear corporation as the sole entity in UniStar and in clear violation of the US Atomic Energy Act which prohibits foreign ownership, control and domination of US nuclear projects. Not one US utility stepped in to fill the vacant partnership with EdF. Instead, the NRC and US nuclear industry have gone into discussions to take a "fresh look" at the foreign ownership prohibition.  

UniStar, in the meantime has withdrawn its application to build the Nine Mile Point-3 EPR in upstate New York. Ameren has suspended its NRC application to build an EPR in Missouri. PPL has likewise suspended its NRC application to build an EPR at Bell Bend, Pennsylvania.

The AREVA announcement  suspending the NRC design review process sows more doubt for French reactors in the US ever being constructed, given that a license cannot be issued without the agency approving design safety.

AREVA's EPR project at Olkiluoto-3 in Finland is 9 years behind schedule and construction cost overruns skyrocketing from Euros 3.2 billion to Euros 8 billion. AREVA's EPR project in Flamanville, France is similarly delayed with a significant cost overrun.