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EPR construction in China: same problems

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
WISE Amsterdam

Finland’s English-language news desk, YLE , has obtained evidence of problems in the construction of a nuclear power plant being built in China by Areva. The French company is building a reactor of the same model as Finland's Olkiluoto, which has experienced similar shortcomings. Meanwhile, costs of Olkiluoto are now estimated at 6.6 billion euro. The price mentioned (and decided on) in Finnish Parliament was 2,5 billion euro, the initial contract for Olkiluoto 3 was 3 billion euro.

The first two European Pressurized Reactor (EPR) construction projects at Olkiluoto and in Flamanville, France, have been plagued by problems. Now it turns out that there have been similar setbacks with another EPR project, a double reactor in Taishan, southern China, near Hong Kong. YLE has obtained inspection reports from China's National Nuclear Safety Administration based on visits in 2009, as construction was beginning there. The results are familiar to observers of the Finnish and French ventures.

When building work began on the new, third reactor at Olkiluoto, the Finnish Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (STUK) detected quality-control shortcomings in areas such as concrete pouring. In 2005 and 2006, it also found that some subcontractors were inexperienced, documentation was incomplete and that there were linguistic difficulties among the workforce, 80 percent of whom are foreigners. Four years later, the list of problems at Taishan is very similar: concrete quality problems, unqualified or inexperienced subcontractors, shortcomings in documentation and language problems.

Areva has not learned from its mistakes, according to Greenpeace. "There seem to be serious ongoing problems in the company's safety culture," says Greenpeace energy specialist Jehki Härkönen. "This is their third such project, and exactly the same mistakes are being made as in the past."

STUK, the Finnish nuclear safety watchdog, declines to draw conclusions about Areva based on the Chinese report, as Areva is just a subcontractor in Taishan. However when STUK was shown the report by YLE, it immediately requested further details from the Chinese. STUK Director Petteri Tiippana says that the allegations are serious. "If there are insufficient language skills, there can be problems," he told YLE. "If builders are not qualified, it can lead to shortcomings in quality. The Chinese authorities are drawing attention to exactly the right issues."The success of Areva's projects is a crucial question in Finland, as it is one of the main contenders to build the planned Fennovoima reactor in Pyhäjoki.

Further delays Olkiluoto
Finnish nuclear company Teollisuuden voima (TVO) announced officially that the Olkiluoto 3 EPR cannot achieve grid connection before 2014. At that point, OL3 would be five years late from the original four year planned construction time and it would have taken twelve years years from gaining license to operation. However, further delays are still possible.

TVO cites problems with the I&C system as the main reason and delays with wiring and piping as secondary reasons.

Areva has yet to comment on the issue. On October 10 CEO Luc Oursel was still boasting his plan to build new nukes in Finland. TVO has asked Areva to come up with new timeline for finishing the project. The delay announcements are usually followed by increased cost estimates, which currently is at 5.9 billion euros. And indeed, on October 12, the French daily Les Echos was citing a report stating the costs for Areva are expected to 6.6 billion euro (US$ 9.1 billion).

But this number can still be an underestimation of the real price considering the evidence that cheap labour is being employed at the construction site. At worst, some Polish workers are paid less than two euros an hour. The roughly 250 euro monthly salary is printed on pay slips obtained by YLE. The Finnish Electrical Workers' Union says this is not an isolated case, but TVO says it has no evidence of pay irregularities. But it plans to look into its subcontractors. The Finnish Construction Trade Union previously voiced concerns regarding subcontracting chains at Olkiluoto that are difficult to trace.

Areva appealed to the Finnish utility firm TVO for "intense cooperation and mutual commitment" during the testing phase for Okliuoto 3. In a statement it said that commissioning the reactor would require "significant efforts from all parties" after TVO earlier on the same day (Oct. 12) blamed Areva for further delays to the construction of the nuclear plant.

Source: YLE (, 23 September & 11 October 2011 / Jehki Härkönen, climate & energy campaigner Greenpeace Nordic, Helsinki, Finland, 12 October 2011 / Reuters, 12 October 2011
Contact: Jehki Harkonen, Greenpeace Finland.
Email: jehki.harkonen[at]