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Flamanville, Olkiluoto; more problems EPR

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
WISE Amsterdam

This so-called “third generation” of nuclear reactors, instigated by the development of the EPR, is proving to be a complete failure. Complex, unfinished designs combined with suppliers who don’t hesitate to cut corners, are a recipe for risky and dangerous reactors. Endless delays and billions of euros in extra cost, in turn, are bound to shipwreck the energy policy of a country that bets on nuclear power.

Governments and investors need to focus on solutions that are delivering safe, renewable energy instead of betting on a risky and dangerous new nuclear reactor. While renewable energy provides most of new electricity generation capacity in Europe as a whole, Finland and France are still making little progress on wind power and other modern renewable energies.

The first ever EPR nuclear reactor - currently under construction by French nuclear company Areva at Olkiluoto, Finland - has been hit once again by delays and the discovery of a host of design and construction defects. Following the Fukushima nuclear accident, Areva as well as its Finnish client TVO have kept a low profile to avoid attention concerning the problems of the EPR project. On July 20, it was revealed that the Flamanville EPR at Flamanville, France, is ridden by similar problems: new delays and  cost overruns.

Greenpeace published a new briefing on the EPR project in Finland based on documents from the Finnish Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (STUK). Areva recently doubled its claim for economic damages from the Finnish project from 1 billion to 1.9 billion euros. TVO "has considered and found the claim by the Supplier to be without merit. TVO will update its counterclaim during the arbitration proceedings." The arbitration proceeding may continue for several years and the claimed and counter-claimed amounts may change. Areva’s total cost for the project is approaching double the contracted price of 3 billion euros. The companies have last  acknowledged a new construction delay to the project in June 2010, when TVO said construction would not be completed before the end of 2012, delaying electricity production until the second half of 2013. The plant was originally meant to go online first half of 2009. At the same time, Areva announced a writedown of 367 million euros, bringing the total cost overrun to 2.6 billion euros, on top of a contracted price of 3 billion. The new problems will most likely imply that the cost and lead time of the project have more than doubled.

The latest annual and quarterly reports by Finnish nuclear regulator (STUK) reveal a long list of alarming issues with the EPR:
* There are new design issues, and the finalization of designs and analyses are lagging behind construction. If the design does not pass the pending analyses, expensive and time-consuming modifications may be required.
* Major lapses in quality assurance and safety control, including backup diesels, emergency cooling systems, electric cabling, radioactivity-containing pools, polar crane, reactor building support structures.
* Continuing lack of safety culture: quality requirements not being communicated in the supply chain; carrying out work without required plans and tests; absence of effective supervision.
* Significant new delays have accumulated; timelines for construction, installation and design approvals have not been met.

Flamanville 3
On July 20, it was revealed that the Flamanville EPR in France is ridden by similar problems.

When the French government published the decree giving the go-ahead for EDF to construct the 1650 MW EPR at its Flamanville site in Normandy on April 11, 2007 the unit was scheduled to begin operating in 2012. Costs were estimated then at 3.3 billion euro; when the decision was taken to built an EPR in 2004 costs were estimated at 3 billion euro.

Now, 4 years later, on July 20, 2011 Electricite de France (EDF) announced that the Flamanville 3 reactor will produce its first kWh only in 2016. EDF announced also on July 20, that the cost of construction amounted to 6 billion euros, (almost) double the price originally announced. To justify this additional cost, EDF argues that this reactor is the first of its kind. They forget too quickly that Flamanville 3 was preceded by the EPR Olkiluoto.

EDF is architect engineer of the project. While Areva is contributing the nuclear steam supply system, Bouyges Construction is leading the civil engineering consortium which included its subsidiaries Bouyges Travaux Publics and Quille, as well as Baudin-Châteauneuf. According to EDF, civil construction is 80% complete, said a statement, and "a start has been made on assembling piping and electrical equipment."

UK: Revised schedule later this year
EDF Energy, the UK subsidiary, has been planning to announce a revised schedule for its first UK EPR towards the end of this year when it can take account of the final report from chief regulator concerning the Fukushima accident. Company CEO Vincent de Rivaz had previously aimed for the end of 2017 at the time to begin commercial operation, with this already having been revised in statements to 2018.

Sources: AFP, 21 October 2004 / World Nuclear News, 11 April 2007 / EDF Press release, 20 july 2011/ Greenpeace, Press release, 21 July 2011 / Greenpeace Briefing: New problems at Olkiluoto, 21 July 2011 / World Nuclear News, 21 July 2011
Contact: Jehki Härkönen, Greenpeace energy campaigner (Finland): +358 40 197 2620 or Lauri Myllyvirta, energy campaigner (Greenpeace International): +31 6535 04711