DCNS has been making nuclear submarines for the French navy for 40 years, Flexblue is a cylindrical unit 100 metres in length and 12 to 15 metres in diameter. Inside would be a small nuclear power reactor and well as steam generators, turbines and a generator to produce 50 to 250 MWe.
DCNS said it had been working on the Flexblue underwater nuclear reactor concept for over two years. It said that both Electricité de France and Areva had “expressed interest in Flexblue’s modularity and standardisation.” The three companies as well as the CEA are now to begin the next two-year phase of development. Areva-TA already works with DCNS to make small reactors for the French navy.
Flexblue will compete with Areva’s third generation EPR reactor. This competition is likely to shape the future of European nuclear power, as the EU seeks to diversify its energy supplies in the face of fossil fuel depletion. The Flexblue project will enter the concept validation phase shortly, with a prototype proposed for 2013. If successful, commercial production could begin by 2016. DCNS’ CEO, Patrick Boissier, has hailed the project as a triumph of European engineering.
Awaiting further attention are technical and production options, market potential, competitiveness analyses, proliferation studies as well as safety and security. DCNS wants to demonstrate Flexblue to have a level of safety comparable to Generation-III reactors.
One of the projects biggest boasts are far lower operational costs then existing next generation reactor designs. Some claims put the cost of a Flexblue reactor at several hundred million euros, compared to €5 billion for Ariva’s EPR. However, such claims will need market validation before DCNS can legitimately claim to have provided an active competitor with alternative or fossil fuel sources. It is also unclear how the project will fit into existing EU research and collaboration in the nuclear energy sector.