(November 10, 2008) The consistency of the work at the construction sites of the new EPR reactors in Finland and France is remarkable: bad work on the concrete basemat, insufficient quality control by Areva, subcontractors using the wrong procedures, no guarantees on metal quality… Consistently bad work is turning the industry’s symbol of nuclear rebirth into an expensive showcase for headaches and delays.
(679.) Greenpeace International - The Finnish nuclear safety authority STUK continues to identify more problems at the construction of the new Finnish reactor, Olkiluoto-3 (OL-3). Last September, STUK and the Finnish utility TVO discovered that the Polish company EPG used an incorrect welding procedure in the fabrication of the steel liner, which is critical to the reactor containment leaktightness. An order to stop the welding has been ignored by EPG for weeks, where after all the welds had to be inspected using ultrasound testing.
OL-3 is EPG’s first nuclear plant project. Already in 2005 STUK had identified problems with welding and control at the Polish company. EPG was subcontracted by Babcock Noell Nuclear GmbH, who in turn was subcontracted by Areva Siemens to supply the steel liner.
Another subcontractor, Creusot Forge, also has difficulties to deliver according to required specifications. Already in 2006 it was discovered that the grain size in the hot and cold leg forgings of the steam supply system was too big and uneven for the nondestructive testing required by STUK. The legs had to be reforged, but a recent inspection revealed that the grain size in the new legs is still too large. According to STUK, the parts can now be inspected by the required method, however, possible implications of the larger and uneven grain size will have to be reviewed.
Also the construction of the French EPR, Flamanville-3, causes difficulties for Areva. The French safety authority ASN warned Areva to improve its oversight of the Italian subcontractor Societe della Fucine, who produces parts for the pressuriser of Flamanville-3. The Italians have used the wrong procedure for testing the quality test of forgings, and ASN no longer trusts the quality control system of the company. ASN says this also raises concerns about Areva’s capacity to guarantee quality of other reactor parts.
ASN is following the OL-3 construction in Finland meticulously and exchanges a lot of information with STUK. Flamanville-3 suffers similar construction problems as are observed in Finland, e.g. the French subcontractor Bouygues has admitted ‘several months’ delay in the construction of the concrete basemat. But also the drilling of the gallery for discharges causes headaches and is said to be at least one year behind schedule.
Three years and counting…
With an original starting date for Olkiluoto-3 commercial operation of 30 April 2009 approaching, the timetable for the construction is adjusted for the fourth time in two years. Start of operation is now estimated in 2012, three years behind the original schedule. TVO remains resolute in its position not to share the cost overruns with the Areva-Siemens consortium. Areva-Siemens in 2003 agreed on highly ambitious terms to win the OL-3 project, because they needed a showcase for the EPR. A fixed-price contract was agreed upon to reduce the risks for the Finnish investors.
However, Areva claims partial TVO responsibility for the delays. TVO committed to validating safety documents provided by Areva within two months after receiving them. According to Areva the document validation period has been closer to nine months, which would cause a domino effect on the time schedule. Areva-Siemens has started an arbitration procedure at the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce, but the subject of arbitration is unclear. Also subcontractors could be included in the dispute.
The continuing problems around the EPR construction illustrate the challenges facing companies and governments when choosing to pursue nuclear power. The OL-3 delays fuel the concern regarding financing of nuclear power plants, because investors are fearful of the unpredictability of nuclear construction. On top of that, the increasing prices of raw materials and scarcely available reactor-building expertise raise serious concerns. Also different approaches in regulation are worrying to investors. The OL-3 project exposes culture differences causing frustration: where the French complain about the huge amount of documents demanded by STUK, the Finns blame the French for being unprepared.
In a report filed end October 2008, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission warned the nuclear industry to be cautious regarding the construction of nuclear facilities. Apart from the problems in Finland and Flamanville, similar difficulties with bad concrete and faulty reinforcing steel were identified in the foundation of a new reactor MOX fuel plant at the Savannah River Site in the USA. Areva is one of the companies building and operating the plant.
Areva’s other markets
Recently, the French company became involved in the waste repository Yucca Mountain in Nevada, USA. The US Department of Energy awarded a US$2.5 billion (2 billion euro) contract for completion of the design and license application issues to USA Repository Services LLC, a subsidiary of URS Corp. that includes AREVA.
The poor results with the EPR at Olkiluoto and Flamanville do not stop Areva from expanding its plant production capacity in the USA. In a joint venture with the American company Northrop Grumman, Areva announced the construction of a new large component factory in Virginia to be able to produce EPR’s large parts. The new factory will be one of the few manufacturing sites able to finish the largest nuclear components such as reactor pressure vessels, steam generators and pressurisers. Like Areva’s facility in Chalon, France, it will not forge the largest components, but rather produce finished components out of subcomponents produced elsewhere.
Areva expects to build at least seven EPRs in the USA. The Italian Energy Minister Scajola recently announced its interest in ‘between eight and ten nuclear reactors of the EPR type’. The Italian government is expected to present its national energy policy in spring 2009, which will include nuclear energy for the first time since nuclear power was rejected in a referendum in 1987.
During a visit of Areva’s CEO Anne Lauvergeon to the Jordan Prime Minister Dahabi in the beginning of November, plans to build a nuclear power plant in Jordan to be operational in 2015 were discussed. By 2030, Jordan envisages to produce 30 percent of its energy supply from nuclear. The United Arab Emirates, another potential market for Areva, is setting up the legal framework needed to support a nuclear energy program before the end of 2008. In the beginning of 2009, it will narrow down technology options for its first nuclear power plant based on offers of at least two vendors. A final choice of technology and vendor is expected in the end of 2009 or beginning of 2010.
Not all new markets come easy. The decision on nuclear construction in South Africa has been once again delayed due to political turmoil and likely funding problems. The South-African utility Eskom is not expected to make a decision before the upcoming general elections, expected early 2009. Sources say the envisaged nuclear expansion in the country comes with an unexpectedly high price tag, causing doubts on whether there will be enough funding to realize it. Though Areva has maintained its original quotation for about half a year, the French company now seems reluctant to extend its current quote. If Eskom does not make a choice between Areva and Westinghouse soon, the price offered is likely to increase.
Sources: Financial Times, 3 November 2008 / World Nuclear News, 24 October 2008 / Nucleonics Week, 9 & 16 & 23 October 2008 / US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 22 October 2008 / South African Mail&Guardian Online, 1 November 2008 / Power Engineering International, 31 October 2008
Contact: Rianne Teule, Nuclear campaigner Greenpeace International. Ottho Heldringstraat 5, 1066 AZ Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Tel: +31 (0)20 718 2229