EDF wants new-model nuclear reactor to be competitive with gas

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PARIS (Reuters) – French state-owned utility EDF (PA:) wants an optimized version of its flagship EPR nuclear reactor to be cost-competitive with gas-fired power stations, its CEO said on Wednesday.

Jean-Bernard Levy told a French Senate hearing that EDF is working closely with its reactor unit Framatome to learn lessons from long-delayed reactor projects in Finland and Flamanville, France to improve the design of the EPR reactor model.

He said for an optimized EPR, EDF is targeting a cost level of 65 to 70 euros ($77) per megawatt hour over the reactor’s 60-year lifespan, based on 2016 prices.

“For those (countries) who choose nuclear energy, we want to offer a price level that is on par with gas, with the additional advantages of energy independence and low-carbon power production,” Levy said.

Solar and wind energy have long been cheaper than nuclear, but these renewable energies are intermittent. Like coal and gas, nuclear is always available, barring outages, but produces no carbon emissions and does not require fossil fuel imports.

Lazard’s annual comparison of the “Levelized Cost of Energy” of various power generation technologies estimates the cost of new nuclear at $118 to $192 per MWh, compared to $32-$42 for utility-scale solar and $28-$54 for onshore wind.

It puts the cost of gas-fired generation at $44-$68 for combined cycle gas plants and $150-$199 for gas peaking plants, those that are only used during peak consumption periods.

Levy also said that in the future, debt-laden EDF would not be able to finance new nuclear plants on its balance sheet, but it would need alternative financing methods similar to Britain’s “Contract for Difference” (CfD) model.

EDF is building two EPR reactors in Hinkley Point, Britain, with a contract under which the government guarantees a minimum price level for the power sold by the plant.

In October 2013, the UK government signed a 35-year electricity price guarantee contract with EDF under which the utility will receive a top-up fee if power prices fall below 92.50 pounds ($118) per MWh.

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