* TVO, Areva cannot give estimated completion date
* Media cites sources that now delayed until at least 2018
* Areva blasts influence of lawyers, Finnish regulation
* TVO says Areva could do more to speed up work
(Recasts, adds comments from Areva CEO, COO,)
By Jussi Rosendahl and Geert De Clercq
HELSINKI/PARIS, Feb 28 Finland's TVO was unable
on Friday to estimate a start date for its long-delayed
Olkiluoto 3 nuclear reactor as the utility and French supplier
Areva, already battling in court, blamed each other
for the latest delays.
Finnish daily Kauppalehti cited sources from the site saying
the startup of the reactor could be delayed until at least 2018
as work had slowed.
Early last year, Teollisuuden Voima (TVO) said the start
might be delayed until 2016. Construction of the Areva-designed
EPR reactor began in 2005 and was originally scheduled for
completion in 2009.
Site manager Jouni Silvennoinen said TVO was still waiting
for supplier Areva-Siemens to update its
work schedule following a reduction of 400 workers at the site
this year. TVO said the site currently has about 1,000 workers.
Areva Finland has said it cut staff to focus its efforts on
the most critical tasks, but TVO said more could be done.
"We think some other work could be done at the same time,"
At Areva's earnings presentation on Wednesday, Chief
Executive Luc Oursel gave no completion date but said work was
86 percent done.
Areva also took a new 425 million euro ($587 million)
provision on Olkiluoto, taking total provisions on the project
to 3.85 billion euros and knocking Areva into a 494 million euro
loss for 2013.
Oursel told Reuters on the sidelines of the presentation
that Olkiluoto 3 was going into the test phase and that TVO
needed to be closely involved at this stage.
"At a certain point, the client needs to take control, but
we cannot get precise engagements," Oursel said, adding that
Areva had been working with TVO for a year just to try and draw
up a common calendar.
He blamed the delays on "excessive influence of lawyers".
"TVO is a client which is no doubt a bit too much influenced
by its lawyers about how to handle this project. It is holding
to an extremely strict contractual framework," he said.
The International Chamber of Commerce's arbitration court is
processing a dispute on cost overruns, and Areva-Siemens in
October raised its compensation claim against TVO to 2.7 billion
TVO, owned by Finnish firms including Fortum,
UPM-Kymmene and Stora Enso, has submitted
a counter claim of 1.8 billion euros.
"It is one of the biggest conflicts in the history of the
construction sector," Areva Chief Operating Officer Philippe
Knoche told reporters on Wednesday.
He added the Olkiluoto problems were due to the relationship
with the client, the Finnish regulatory framework and the lack
of maturity of the supply chain. He also said Areva's claim
against TVO did not cover its losses on the project.
Olkiluoto 3's construction costs were first estimated at 3.2
billion euros. Late in 2012, Oursel estimated the overall cost
would end up closer to 8.5 billion euros.
Asked about the risk to Areva's reputation of a conflict
with a client, Oursel said the two EPRs being built in Taishan,
China were on budget and on schedule and that Britain's choice
of two EPR reactors at Hinkley Point proved the problem was not
with its reactor design.
"The EPR is seen as a good technology, and the problems we
experience are more and more specifically Finnish," he said.
A fourth EPR being built in France, now 57 percent complete,
has also been haunted by multi-year delays and billion-euro cost
Olkiluoto 3 was the first project for which Areva took
charge as project manager, not just supplying the reactor.
The Finnish project was an attempt by previous Areva CEO
Anne Lauvergeon to get out from under the wing of French
state-controlled utility EDF, which has traditionally
acted as a project manager in French nuclear plant construction.
During the earnings presentation, Areva's new management
took pains to distance itself from "the weight of projects
launched in the 2000s decade".
The Observatoire du Nucleaire, a French anti-nuclear group,
blasted Areva for the new Finnish delays.
"This is a complete Waterloo for Areva," the group said in
an emailed statement.
($1 = 0.7240 euros)
(Reporting by Jussi Rosendahl and Geert De Clercq; editing by
David Evans and Jane Baird)