LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's nuclear regulator said it may resolve by the end of the year all outstanding issues regarding the proposed operation of EDF's and Areva's new-generation European Pressurised Water Reactor (EPR) in Britain.
The French companies, together with junior partner Centrica, plan to build four EPRs in Britain, the first of which would be located at Hinkley Point in Somerset, England.
The Office for Nuclear Regulation is in the process of licensing the EPR design for operation in the UK, a thorough review also known as Generic Design Assessment (GDA) that has already taken several years.
The new nuclear plants, including Hinkley Point, would still need planning and other government approvals before construction could begin.
The regulator said on Tuesday that two GDA issues had been resolved for the EPR and that it could close all outstanding issues by the end of the year.
The issues closed on Tuesday included concerns about the monitoring of irradiation damage to material and evidence that concrete used at the reactor provided adequate shielding to ensure that workers and the public would be protected from radiation.
The regulator said work was ongoing with EDF, Areva and Centrica's joint venture company NNB Generation Company on improvements that would increase confidence it would be able to safely operate the new plant.
"If EDF and AREVA sustain these improvements for the significant number of submissions that are still to be delivered, and if they remain responsive to any questions that we raise, then we believe that the programs that are set out in the revised resolution plans can be achieved," the Office of Nuclear Regulation said.
"In that case, and if we are satisfied by the safety, security and environmental arguments that they put forward, we might be able to close all of the remaining GDA Issues by the end of the year," it added.
Areva and EDF welcomed the report.
"We are pleased that the efforts have resulted in major progress towards securing GDA acceptance within the next few months," Areva UK's Chairman Alain-Pierre Raynaud said in a separate statement.
"We, and our partners Centrica, aim to take our final investment decision at the end of this year. It is vital that momentum is maintained in the legislative process and that we maintain the momentum in the licensing process," said Humphrey Cadoux-Hudson, EDF Energy's managing director of nuclear new build.
(Reporting by Henning Gloystein and Karolin Schaps, editing by Jane Baird)