Delays and cost overruns at two nuclear reactors under construction in France and Finland have made potential investors wary of joining a consortium led by France's EDF for a similar project in Britain, EDF's chief executive has admitted.
The French utility plans to build two European Pressurised Reactors (EPRs) at Hinkley Point with two Chinese partners, but it has been unable to find other investors for the 16 billion pound project.
"For third parties observing the announcements of delays and cost overruns for the EPRs under construction, it is difficult to commit," Jean-Bernard Levy told French financial daily Les Echos.
Technical problems and tightened safety rules have delayed EDF's new-generation nuclear reactors and costs have ballooned way beyond initial estimates.
Levy said EDF's main partner for the project in western England is China General Nuclear Corp(CGN), which is also building two EPR reactors in China.
"They still have confidence in the EPR, like us," he said.
Levy confirmed comments by British finance minister George Osborne who said China could build and own a nuclear power plant in Britain in the future.
He said EDF plans to build two EPRs in Hinkley Point, two more in Sizewell, and then a reactor based on Chinese technology -- the Hualong -- on the Bradwell site in eastern England.
Levy said EDF hopes to be able to order one or two units of an improved EPR reactor in France in five years.
The EPRs being built in France and Finland were designed by Areva, another state-owned French firm, but EDF has now taken over Areva's reactor arm and is working on an upgraded EPR it hopes will be easier and cheaper to build.
"We are working on the design of a "New Model" (NM) EPR in order to be able, within four to five years, to order one or two EPR NM that could replace existing reactors seven to eight years later," Levy said.
His comments could indicate that he expects EDF may not be able to extend the life of all its reactors and may have to replace some with new equipment.
EDF runs 58 ageing nuclear plants that generate about 75 percent of France's power and which will have to be upgraded or replaced in coming years.
By year-end, nuclear watchdog ASN is expected to give a preliminary opinion about EDF's request to extend the lifespan of its reactors from 40 to 50 or 60 years.