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What is a European Pressurized Reactor (EPR)?
Blog...What is a European Pressurized Reactor (EPR)?

What is a European Pressurized Reactor (EPR)?

Green News
Global Warming
What is a European Pressurized Reactor? How does a European Pressurized Reactor differ from other nuclear reactors?
Green News

Nuclear energy has been a divisive topic since it became a feasible energy source. Still, countries and companies globally have continued to invest in the future of this technology. European pressurized reactors belong to one of the newer generations of nuclear reactors that promised to improve safety and power generation.  

But European pressurized reactors have their flaws. What are these flaws? And what is a European pressurized reactor in the first place?

What is a European pressurized reactor (EPR) ?

A European pressurized reactor (EPR) is a type of nuclear reactor that is a third-generation pressurized water reactor. Nuclear reactors, generally, create electricity by harnessing nuclear power.  

Below, we define these terms piece-by-piece to give a clearer picture of what an EPR is.

Nuclear reactors on sunsetNuclear reactors on sunset

What is nuclear power ?

Nuclear power works by converting water into steam by way of heat created through nuclear fission – splitting atoms in half to create energy. A nuclear reactor is a controlled space for nuclear fission to occur.

What is a pressurized water reactor ?

A pressurized water reactor heats pressurized normal water in thin coils. This super-hot pressurized water then interacts with lower pressure water that creates steam to power turbines.  

Normal water, also called light water, is differentiated from heavy water. In older generations of nuclear reactors, light water was slightly altered to include a heavier hydrogen isotope. This new compound was named “heavy water.”

It has slightly different properties compared to light water, contributing greatly to how engineers could use the two liquids differently.

What is a third-generation nuclear reactor ?

As nuclear reactors are developed and improved, eventually there comes a point when a set of reactors are markedly different from those previous. This necessitates the naming of the next generation.  Although the changes from the second to the third generation of reactors were marginal, they were still notable.

Each generation is known to be safer, more reliable, and more cost-effective than the last. The third generation of nuclear reactors, in particular, upgraded many sides of safety and had greater standardization of design.

Naming clarification

It is worth noting that a European pressurized reactor is also known as an evolutionary power reactor outside of Europe. Regardless, an “EPR” is an acceptable name everywhere.

The first EPRs in use

The first EPR in operation was Taishan 1, located in China. It began contributing power to its grid in December 2018. The second fully functioning EPR was Taishan 2, also located in China, opening a year later.

Standout characteristics of EPRs

Safety features

As mentioned above, third generation nuclear reactors are much safer than their predecessors. EPRs are no exception to this rule.  

They were designed with four stand-alone emergency cooling systems that can continue to cooling the reactors for up to three years after shutdown.  

To avoid a repeat of Chernobyl, EPRs are completely leak-proof around the reactor. They also have a spare container and cooling area on the off chance that nuclear parts could escape the reactor.  

Power potential, efficiency, and defense

Based on estimations by their inventors, EPRs need about 17% less fuel than their predecessors did. On top of that, compared to the most modern reactors, EPRs are more powerful, with 14% higher power output capacity.  

The walls of the EPRs are two concrete layers that total to over eight feet thick. They were designed like so to deal with worst-case scenarios: an internal meltdown or an impact from an airplane.

nuclear power stationnuclear power station

EPR problems

European pressurized reactor inflexibility

EPR was a technology designed with different power requirements in mind than our world currently faces today. With wind and solar power making up a large part of the modern energy grid, there are larger variations in energy at any given moment depending on the state of natural resources.  

For example, a location that relies on solar panels and wind turbines for much of its energy is dependent on the weather for a consistent power supply. A windier, sunnier day will result in much more power flooding the grid than would a dark, still day.  

Energy systems work best when they can fluctuate between sources depending on what resource is in abundance. Unfortunately, EPRs do not fit well into this equation.

EPRs are very large reactors that are rather inflexible – they have a hard time suddenly shutting off or starting up based on potential sudden fluxes in wind and solar energy. Having a large amount of potential power is less useful If that power cannot fit well onto the grid.

Overspending and delays

It is not uncommon for an EPR to see delays in its opening and to need extra money spent to get it functioning.

For example, an EPR unit at Flamanville in Normandy, France, that was supposed to need six years from construction start to commercial operation to 13 years and then again to 17 years. This delay inflated the cost of the Flamanville EPR from 3.3 billion euros (3.3 billion U.S. dollars) to 12.4 billion euros (12.3 billion U.S. dollars).  

The Flamanville EPR was the second EPR to begin construction. The first EPR to begin construction is on the verge of being commercially operable, but after it faced its own 13-year delay. This EPR is at Oikiluoto in Finland.  

Some of the issues have to do with corrosion problems that are common in pressurized water reactors like EPRs. The corrosion can create safety concerns as well as clogging of steam generator tubes. As When an EPR begins to come online, it may need its water circuits replaced before it can be in commercial operation.

Other concerns and facts about nuclear energy

Can a nuclear reactor explode?

It is not possible for a nuclear reactor to explode. This is because nuclear explosions require an unbelievable amount of compact force that is not used at nuclear reactor sites. Without this force, there will not be an uncontrollable chain reaction of energy.

Nuclear not as clean as it seems

Nuclear energy is often touted as a clean energy source. In reality, while nuclear is not as bad for the environment as fossil fuels, it is still responsible for plenty of greenhouse gas emissions.

Mining is a required part of the nuclear energy life cycle in order to secure uranium supplies. As an industry, mining relies on massive construction vehicles that gobble fossil fuels.

One of the greenhouse gases that doesn’t get much attention is water vapor.While not as potent as carbon dioxide or methane, water vapor still contributes to the greenhouse effect. Nuclear plants emit water vapor as a natural by-product of their operations.  

Nuclear waste

An unavoidable part of the process in creating nuclear energy is the creation of nuclear waste. While governments may try to assure us that the radioactive fuel rods used by a reactor will not escape the nuclear site, it is worth noting that nuclear waste can take up thousands of years to decay completely.

Also, more operational nuclear plants mean a greater risk of a radioactive leak at some point in the future, however slim.  

Where are nuclear reactors located?

The country with the most nuclear reactors is the United States with 96, followed by France and China.  

Within the U.S., 20 states have one or more commercial nuclear plants. Illinois has the most reactors of any state at 11. In fact, the majority of nuclear reactors found on American soil are east of the Mississippi.  

If you are concerned about if there is a nuclear reactor near you,this map shows locations of all U.S. nuclear sites as of 2021.  

Safest nuclear reactor design

Generally speaking, the safest nuclear reactors will be the ones designed most recently. Those are typically known as fourth generation nuclear reactors.  

There are other nuclear technologies in testing for feasibility and safety, but it is unclear if these potential breakthroughs will be safer than current designs.  

Next generation of nuclear

For nuclear energy to be a reliable source of energy in years to come, it needs to be a more flexible power source that can ride the highs and lows of energy produced from natural resources.

One of the faults of EPRs, as discussed, is that they cannot turn on or off quickly enough to work well in tandem with wind and solar.

It is likely that the future of nuclear power lies with more agile technologies that use much smaller reactors. These modular reactors will require less energy to start and stop their processes. They will also be cheaper and faster to build due to a greater standardization of parts.

Contact Greenly to get a read on your emissions

With the world transitioning to cleaner energy sources, it’s important to know the emissions of your business. You can hire Greenly to measure your emissions and give you a full report on how to reduce them. And for the emissions that you can’t avoid, we can set you up with a host of verified carbon offset programs for you to choose from.  

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