The Autorité de Sûreté Nucléaire (ASN), France’s nuclear regulatory authority, has granted British energy company EDF approval to commence the startup of the Flamanville 3 nuclear plant in 2024, following a 12-year delay.

The plant, situated in north-western France, has been given the go-ahead by the ASN to initiate the fuel loading process, conduct trials and eventually begin operations.

The decision concludes a rigorous review process involving almost 600 inspections of the reactor’s construction by the regulator.

Further approvals will be necessary as the plant progresses through the trial phase.

The ASN emphasised the importance of the checkpoints to ensure safety and compliance throughout the commissioning process.

Upon integration into the country’s national grid, the 1.6GW European pressurised reactor (EPR) will become part of EDF’s extensive reactor fleet in France, Bloomberg has reported.

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Nuclear reactors contributed to approximately two-thirds of French electricity production in 2023.

The approval of the Flamanville 3 plant’s startup comes after a series of setbacks that have impacted the project’s timeline and EDF’s financial health.

The project, which began in 2007, has seen its budget, excluding financing costs, increase to €13.2bn.

Despite the approval, EDF will be required to replace the reactor vessel’s cap during the first refuelling outage.

The ASN will mandate deadlines for the replacement of other components and equipment.

The prolonged challenges faced by the Flamanville 3 project have cast doubts on the French nuclear industry’s capability to deliver reactor construction projects on time and within budget.

This is particularly concerning as France plans to build six new nuclear plants.

In February 2024, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire suggested that the UK should bear a greater portion of the costs for the new nuclear reactors being constructed by EDF.

The UK’s Hinkley Point C and Sizewell C projects, both under construction, have encountered similar issues with cost overruns and delays, predominantly shouldered by EDF.

EDF’s international ventures have seen mixed results, with two similar reactors built in China experiencing minor delays and Finland’s first EPR eventually commencing operations in 2023, 14 years behind schedule.